The Department of Transport is confident that the South African National Road Agency SOC Limited (SANRAL) investigated all possible funding options before deciding on e-tolling as a mechanism to service the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project.
The department also notes claims by the Democratic Alliance that e-tolling might be implemented without the necessary consideration. Such claims are irresponsible, disingenuous and display a limited or lack of understanding of the economics around road infrastructure development.
SANRAL has a proud history of excellence which is now being called into question because of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project. It manages a road network of no less than 18-thousand kilometres. It must be noted that only 3126 of this total network is tolled.
The party claims that e-tolls will have a negative impact on small businesses citing the example of two businessmen they "consulted" in Tembisa, Gauteng.
This "consultation" by the DA has failed to take into account the economic impact of congestion on roads.
"Improved roads will have a positive effect on these businesses. The "consultation" seems to have forgotten to weigh the cost of congestion in its economic assessment. These business owners in Tembisa need an improved road network (R21) otherwise deliveries to their businesses will always be late due to congestion on the road network. The DA probably does not know that there is an economic cost to congestion. We would argue that both these SMME operators are better off with an improved R21 than a congested one," says Transport Minister Dipuo Peters.
Secondly the DA indicated that e-tolls will make people poorer and asked how SANRAL could go ahead with this project despite this negative impact.
Cabinet has taken a decision to cushion the poor by granting 100% exemptions to certain categories of road users including public transport (buses and mini-bus taxis). This bold decision is a clear demonstration that government has considered all social factors before arriving at the decision to toll the road network in question.
E-Tolling won't cost motorists a fortune. In fact the vast majority (82.83%) will pay a maximum of R100 per month. SANRAL used actual data from its toll collection system to calculate these figures - 10.10% will pay R101 to R200, 4.03% will pay R201 to R300, 1,82% will pay R300 to R400, 0,63% will pay R400 to R450, 0.59% will pay R450.
This is in addition to a decision to cap tolling fees at R450 regardless of how much driving a motorist does on the network.
The DA's claim that SANRAL knew that 48% of road users in Gauteng would not pay for e-tolls is also misleading.
"This information is used for planning purposes, to develop enforcement strategies. The document states an expected pay rate of 90% for steady state operations (after the ramp up period). The survey results were not unexpected as the payment for any services is never a popular choice," says Minister Peters.
The DA also questioned SANRAL's statement that additional lanes would mean less travel times on Gauteng roads.
Since GFIP, various independent studies have shown that both travel time and the pain factor of travelling on Gauteng roads have dropped.
A recent independent study by Tom-Tom revealed that the only urban region where traffic congestion has decreased is Gauteng. In the Western Cape traffic congestion has in fact increased the study revealed.
In a 2007 (before the implementation of GFIP) Automobile Association (AA) study, it was reported that, because of congestion, a 1 600cc vehicle, travelling between Pretoria and Johannesburg, spends an additional 122 minutes on the road each day. This added up to a whopping 40 additional hours in the traffic every month and amounted to about 705l of fuel wasted, as a result of 469 hours of idling. At only R11.00 per litre of fuel that is an additional fuel bill of R7 775.
In 2010 the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry raised concerns about the cost of congestion on the Gauteng freeway network. At the time it was estimated that the cost of congestion on the Ben Schoeman Highway alone amounted to R15 million an hour.
"The DA opposes tolling to fund road infrastructure in Gauteng when it endorsed the principle in the Western Cape where Chapman's Peak is tolled," says Minister Peters.
The call for the consideration of a fuel levy to fund GFIP is also flawed. Critically, the fuel levy imposes a tax on all motorists across the country whether or not they will use the GFIP.
"How does a resident of Nyandeni in the Eastern Cape get asked to fund roads in Gauteng as if they don't have their own infrastructure needs? The DA must tell the other provinces how fair that is," concludes Minister Peters.
SANRAL remains technically ready to implement the e-tolling. We encourage motorists to get registered and get tagged in preparation for the launch.