/ 29 November 2011

Transport minister to decide on toll road funding method

Transport Minister To Decide On Toll Road Funding Method

A report detailing the public’s view on the Gauteng highway tolling system will be forwarded to Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele after a vote by the provincial legislature on Tuesday.

While all political parties agreed on the need for public participation and infrastructure development, not all agreed on the funding method for such projects, petitions committee chairperson Jacob Khawe said.

The house heard that the Democratic Alliance (DA) wanted the entire tolling contract with the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) to be cancelled.

DA Gauteng caucus leader Jack Bloom said it was possible to get out of the contract with the right legal expertise.

“One thing is clear: The people of this province have spoken loudly and clearly that they do not want these tolls,” he said.

‘Public interest’
“This contract was signed two years ago. We need to cancel this contract … and it can be done.”

Bloom questioned the purpose of the debate on Tuesday when the first phase of the tolls was already expected to start in February.

Gauteng roads and transport MEC Ismail Vadi reiterated the position of Ndebele on the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP).

He explained to Bloom that future phases of the project had been halted to obtain vital input from all parties about funding methods and a mutually beneficial solution.

“One thing the DA has ignored is the context in which tolls have been added … The maintenance and development of roads is critical to the transport of people and goods … It is in the public interest to upgrade roads and build new ones,” Vadi said.

Strategic private partnerships
The state did not have adequate funds to finance this infrastructure improvement and needed to look to strategic private partnerships to meet the demands of a developing country, he said.

Vadi was heckled by DA members while speaking with some screaming that the public’s money was being wasted and one member stuck his tongue out at the MEC.

Fred Nel, DA legislature member and deputy spokesperson for roads and transport, stood up at one point and suggested that the R60-billion of “wasteful, fruitless expenditure” could have paid for both the Gautrain and the toll system in cash.

Congress of the People member Ndzipho Kalipa sought to make peace, reminding all parties that it was time for constructive debate, reconciliation and resolve to bring together “the blues [DA] and yellows [ANC]”.

Limited options
Infrastructure Development MEC and African National Congress member Bheki Simon Nkosi said the debate was “not about whether we like tolling or not tolling” but rather about deciding how to go ahead with the project.

“We are a developing country. Our options are limited,” he said.

“How do you expect the government to provide infrastructure?”

The state could not get development aid as it was expensive and was tied to unreasonable conditions, he said. To rely on the national or provincial fiscus was also not sustainable.

He said the only option was to invite the private sector to help with infrastructure while retaining ownership of the assets being created.

‘Waste of time’
Nkosi said the state had considered the poor in all these plans by providing subsidies and grants to shelter them from changes in the market.

Anti-toll petitions had been submitted by the DA, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the South African National Civic Organisation as part of public hearings.

Cosatu announced on Thursday it would hold mass action at the end of February against the tolling system as the public hearings had “turned out to be a waste of time”.

Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said he had requested a meeting with Ndebele to explain why the project was going ahead but he had not had a response.

He called for people not to buy e-tags and to drive through the tolls without paying.

The first phase of the tolling system is scheduled to take effect in February next year.

Forty-two electronic toll gates have been erected on the Gauteng N1, N3, N12, N17, R21 and R24. The tolls cover a distance of about 185km.

There was outrage when it was initially proposed that users of light motor vehicles with e-tag accounts would pay R0.49/km to use the toll roads, minibus taxi drivers R0.16/km and bikers R0.30/km.

Reduced fees
Vehicles without an e-tag account would be charged R0.66/km.

Cabinet later approved reduced toll tariffs.

It agreed that light motor vehicles would pay R0.40/km, medium vehicles R1/km, “longer” vehicles R2/km and bikers R0.24/km. Qualifying commuter taxis and buses would be exempted entirely.

There would be a 31% e-tag discount, a time of day discount available and a frequent user discount for motorbikes and light motor vehicles fitted with an e-tag. — Sapa