In October last year, the Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Act, 2013 came into operation to facilitate the collection of tolls and the implementation of the electronic toll collection system on Gauteng roads.
President Zuma signed the Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Bill into law on 21 September 2013. The tolling, like all other measures that add to the already existing financial commitments of consumers, has been met with some uneasiness and unhappiness.
Some bits of information that are important for consumers to know appear to have not found way into the public domain in a visible way. One is that workers travelling in buses and taxis are exempted from e-tolls. These modes of transport pass through the gantries free of charge. Transport services in South Africa are ably supported by the minibus taxi industry, ferrying about 60% of the population in Gauteng daily. They form an integral part of the integrated transport system value chain.
Secondly, the Gauteng government has upgraded alternative roads to assist those not wanting to use the tolled roads. Thirdly, there is a much broader infrastructure plan, emphasizing rail as the backbone to assist commuters even further.
The project has come a long way. The South African National Roads Agency first submitted its Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project proposal to government in 2006. Gauteng, which generates nearly 38 % of the total value of South Africa's economic activities, has developed beyond its infrastructural capabilities with roads in general unable to keep up with increasing traffic demands. This affected road users and the economy by the daunting peak-hour traffic periods each morning and evening, leading to limited family and leisure time and decreased productivity as employees lose productive hours due to the negotiating of traffic. After consultations and a lot of work, the proposal was accepted by Cabinet in mid-2007.
The road agency advertised the details of the project, its Intent to Toll, the proposed toll points and expected toll tariffs. The public was given the opportunity to comment in 2007 by the democratic administration led by President Thabo Mbeki. The rationale was outlined.
After the Cabinet approval, SANRAL upgraded the roads at a cost of R20 billion. The funding for these improvements was sourced by SANRAL through the sale of monthly bonds. These bonds are to be repaid over 24 years.
Government has adopted the “user pay” principle to enable the speedy and efficient delivery of transport infrastructure.
The President signed the Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Bill into law to ensure that South Africa is able to meet its financial commitments to the investors.
The Gauteng government has outlined the roads that have been upgraded which provide alternatives. These include the following;
• The R55 that runs parallel to the N1 from Woodmead, Sunderland Ridge, Laudium and Pretoria West. It also links well with the Mabopane Freeway. This is a high quality, dual carriage road and it is not tolled.
• The M1 between Woodmead Drive and Corlett Drive was upgraded at a cost R86 million into four lanes, thereby easing traffic on the busiest section of the Gauteng freeway network.
• For motorists travelling from the south of Johannesburg, the R82 - the Old Vereeniging Road - has being developed into a dual carriage way between Eikenhof and Walkerville.
• The N12 near Lenasia/Eldorado Park has been widened into three lanes each way and the Golden Highway has been rehabilitated.
• The N14 is a busy route from Pretoria to Roodepoort/Mogale City. The section between Potgieter Street in Pretoria and the Brakfontein Interchange in Centurion has been widened from two to three lanes at a cost of R115 million. The sinkhole at Jean Avenue in Centurion has been fully repaired at a cost of R59 million.
• The R25 between Bronkhorstspruit and Kempton Park has been rehabilitated.
In addition, as part of the massive infrastructure programme, government is determined to make rail transport the backbone of public transport in Gauteng. The R30 billion Gautrain project is now fully functional and carries over 1.2 million passengers per month and 50 000 a month. Its feeder bus system transports 350 000 passengers monthly. Gautrain is a reliable, safe and affordable mode of transport that compares favourably with the best in the world.
The Passenger Rail Association of South Africa (PRASA) is to spend over R120 billion over the next 10 years to buy new trains. A total of 2800 trains will be delivered next year in Gauteng.
Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni all have detailed plans to roll-out the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems in these cities that will cost approximately R10 billion. Phase 1A of the Rea Vaya is fully operational and carries 40 000 passengers daily. Phase 1B will be operational on 14 October 2013 and the BRT in Pretoria central is scheduled to operational in April 2014.
In Gauteng, R1.7 billion is allocated in bus subsidies so as to keep passenger fares down.
All this is part of ongoing work to develop world class infrastructure that will improve the lives of the people while also boosting economic growth and development in the country.