/ 18 January 2012

E-tolling regulations are ‘overkill’, says NCF

The controversial e-tolling system planned for Gauteng’s highway system could result in the rights of consumers being violated, the National Consumer Forum (NCF) said on Wednesday.

“The regulations involved in billing of road users once the system is in place needs to be sharpened. At the moment it is complete overkill,” Paul Crankshaw, the NCF’s deputy chairperson told the Mail & Guardian.

The South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) has faced a storm of criticism over its proposed management of the e-tolling system. The system will see the Gauteng road users billed electronically when using the province’s N1 highway.

The Democratic Alliance and Cosatu have expressed concerns that current regulations do not offer enough clarity on the billing process faced by roads users and fails to protect them against incorrect fees.

The tolling requires commuters to fit an e-tag which will monitor each time they pass a specific gantry on the highway and be charged accordingly.

Vehicles without an e-tag will have their licence plates monitored and billed for their journeys.

Using licence plates for billing carries the risk that fraudulent plates could lead to the wrong person being left liable.

The NCF said the system’s current mode of implementation may lead to infringements of the Consumer Protection Act.

“The onus will be on consumers to prove they are correct, which is directly opposed to what the CPA aims to do — protect the rights of consumers,” Crankshaw said.

In Parliament last year, Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele attempted to allay fears of commuters being saddled with incorrect fees. “If the road user can prove they were not the driver of the vehicle with the applicable nomination form, the transactions will be moved to the correct driver,” Ndebele said.

Nonetheless, the NCF said there is a “worrying possibility” that recourse channels open to consumers “could be found wanting”. Additionally, there are fears that Sanral’s policy of debiting of e-tag road users’ bank accounts hands over too much power.

“Sanral has given no confidence to consumers in the attempted implementation of this system. The way things stand consumers could easily be left with no recourse to counter incorrect fees,” Crankshaw said.

The e-Tolling terms and conditions also stipulate road users should allow personal financial information to be obtained from their bank or any credit bureau by Sanral.

Section 33 of the e-tolling terms and conditions reads: “The user hereby irrevocably authorises the agency or its duly authorised agent to obtain from any institution where the user may have an account, or from any credit bureau, any information concerning the user. This clause constitutes consent and an instruction to each such institution to disclose such information to the agency or its agent.

The NCF considers this definition to be too broad and out of sync with international practices.

“They need to be more specific about what they want as this is directly opposed to the evolving legislation concerning the protection of consumer rights,” Crankshaw said.

Sanral has defended its regulations, maintaining it does not permit them to “to transgress the requirements of legislation.”

“As to whether Sanral obtained more information than may be permitted is a factual issue which can be addressed at the relevant time,” Sanral said via a statement on Tuesday.

The regulations have been slammed by the DA who believes Sanral are only trying to “safeguard themselves”.

“They want to make 100% sure they get paid regardless of the legality, or lack thereof, in their legislation,” DA shadow minister for Transport Manny de Freitas told the M&G.