/ 12 August 2011

Cabinet faces uphill battle over Gauteng toll roads

The Congress of South African Trade Unions has threatened to strike if the tolling policy on the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project is not scrapped.

Cosatu has threatened to strike if the tolling policy on the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project was not scrapped.

“If there is no change … we shall be planning marches, demonstrations, pickets and stayaways, and taking strike action,” spokesperson Patrick Craven said in a statement on Thursday.

The union expressed anger over Deputy Transport Minister Jeremy Cronin’s announcement earlier in the day that Cabinet had approved reduced toll tariffs for the first phase of the project.

Craven said: “Government earlier promised it would consult with the public before charging tolls. Yet at the only meeting to which Cosatu Gauteng was invited, they were simply told that the tolls were going ahead. That is not consultation!”

Cravin contended that the widespread opposition to the proposal had been ignored, and that it would impose a huge burden on road users.

Last week, the Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa) said it would join Cosatu in a strike if the toll-road project went ahead.

“The open road tolling system is aimed at consolidating the privatisation of our national roads and this simply cannot be allowed to happen,” said general secretary Dennis George at the time.

Consultation a priority
“Government cannot forgo their responsibility of maintaining the country’s infrastructure and then unilaterally decide to pass on these costs to taxpayers. Consultation with the social partners must be made a priority.”

Earlier, Automobile Association spokesperson Gary Ronald said it appeared that all intentions of a fund to alleviate tolling had disappeared, leaving the public to foot the bill.

“The questions was — now what?” he asked in a statement.

“Commodities are going to cost more as a direct result of the tolls and effectively the poor will be worst off,” said Ronald.

“If the public rally together and stand firm in the face of tolling by not registering for e-tags and flagrantly disregarding tolling costs and consequent fines, will the authorities have the wherewithal to manage a disgruntled five million motorists?”

Earlier, Cronin told a media briefing that motorcyclists would pay 24 cents a kilometre, light motor vehicles 40 cents, medium vehicles R1, and “longer” vehicles R2.

Qualifying commuter taxis and buses would be exempted entirely.

In addition to the 31% e-tag discount, other discounts would be applicable during certain times. There would also be a frequent user discount for motorcycles and for light motor vehicles fitted with an e-tag.

In a statement, the Democratic Alliance’s Neil Campbell said the toll fees were still too high and would add an unacceptable burden to the costs of doing business in the province.

“While we welcome the exemption for commuter taxis and buses, the private motorist will be hit exceptionally hard.

System may cost R14bn
“We are still in the dark about the real costs of operating the e-tolling system, which is possibly as high as R14-billion over eight years.”

He said this seemed to be excessive and would be difficult to implement in a situation where many people were hard to trace and many licence plates were fraudulent.

The DA was concerned the toll fees would rise further over the years.

“We are paying the price for extremely poor planning by the Gauteng provincial government,” Campbell said.

The SA National Taxi Council (Santaco) welcomed the exemption for taxis.

“The exemption relieves the taxi industry from the high operational costs that operators are presently struggling to survive in their day-to-day business operations,” it said in a statement.

Business Unity South Africa (Busa) said the e-tolling system would introduce significant administrative and cost complexities for business that would be felt across the spectrum — by the tourism industry, manufacturers, and small business.

“The seven-day payment terms requirement still remains a worrying concern, as it will cause cash flow disruptions,” it said in a statement.

“While we believe that the reduction in tolls and the exemptions granted to taxis and commuter buses will to some extent soften the pain to commuters, it does undermine the ‘user-pay’ principle and complicates the criteria applied in deciding which vehicles would be subject to tariffs and which not.”

Busa said the cost implications on fast-moving consumer goods, particularly basic foodstuffs, would still be felt most significantly by the working class and unemployed. – Sapa