Together against e-tolling

Cosatu’s comment came in response to Minister Ndebele’s recent announcement that toll tariffs had been reduced, an action which should alert us to a ploy commonly adopted by governments to make their citizenry accept unpopular and unwanted legislation.

It was not long ago that Eskom announced a proposal for a 100% rate hike in one year which raised a national furore, but when this was reduced to a 35% increase, year on year for three years, most of the populace breathed a sigh of relief and more or less accepted a still preposterous outcome.

Sounds like a familiar ploy when the initial proposed e-tolling fee of 49c per km (for light motor vehicles) was reduced by 20% to “win over” and placate the overtaxed commuter in Gauteng, but this time around one thinks not.

The mere fact that SANRAL is proposing (or rather attempting to enforce) tolling to finance the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) is a grave error and simply goes against that which Governments are tasked to do for its citizens, to provide the best conditions for life and business to thrive at the least cost (taxation) possible, thereby enabling all within to enjoy the fruits of society.

This is certainly not the case in the matter of e-tolling the GFIP and here’s why:

Firstly, to set the record straight, no-one is disputing the need for the GFIP to have taken place. The upgrading and maintenance of OUR congested freeways and crumbing motorways is the responsibility of the Department of Transport and we applaud them for a job well done with the GFIP.

We also understand that Government has clearly stated that revenues from the fuel levies collected are not “ring-fenced”, i.e. not able to be used for the purposes initially intended, being road maintenance and upgrades. Instead, these are channelled to other pressing areas of finance requirements to manage the country and uplift the quality of life for all its citizens and we have our work cut out for us here in South Africa in this regard.

The problem of not ring-fencing the funds (taxes) collected from the fuel (and other) levies for the purpose they were initially intended opens up a whole new debate into the realm of transparency and the exposure of efficiencies within the role of government. By not ring-fencing specific levies collected to address specific national needs, accountability for service delivery disappears and this is precisely the case regarding general road maintenance and upgrading.

This is essentially the crux of the matter and why the government is choosing to implement such lucrative revenue generating taxation methods a e-tolling, with the Carbon Tax next in its sights.

No one is disputing the tolling (taxing) of long distance (non-daily commuting) routes as nearly everyone only travels these routes only on occasion. Tolling these rural inter-city connection routes has also lessened the burden on the fuel levy.

With the fuel levy not ring-fenced and now propping up the national fiscus, the government casino needs to find other ways of raising revenues for roads. Enter the urban tolling project in Gauteng, an elaborate plan to fund the R18 Billion required to pay for the GFIP. But here’s the grave sin, the e-tolling project requires an additional R1,5 to R2 Billion per annum to manage and administer. This money in itself could almost finance another entire GFIP on its own.

Currently, R1.77 in each litre of petrol purchased generates just short of R30 billion in revenue. If the entire amount were used for road upgrades and maintenance, there would be no issue or requirement for e-tolling.

SANRAL will argue that this is still not enough. Well then, what is the amount required and how transparent is the entire country’s roads and freeways expenditure process? Answer these questions and the solution as to what the fuel levy should be will be answered.

Here’s a suggestion to government for funding of the GFIP which one wonders if it was ever considered as an option:

Place an additional R0.15c (just over 1% increase) to the national fuel price – and ring-fence this portion for the GFIP.

This will raise approximately R30 Billion rand over 15 years, which is sufficient to finance the capital required for the GFIP including the interest thereof.

Double that to R0.30c and we could finance the freeway improvement projects for the other three main cities (the GFIP being approximately equal to that required for similar upgrades in time for Cape Town, Durban and PE combined).

SARS is a very efficient government department and is most capable of ring-fence specific revenues collected so it’s not a case of ‘we can’t’.

The government has indicated its intention to introduce e-tolling our other major cities, so it’s not a case of user pay principal that applies here. A poll of motorists and vehicle fleet related businesses – on which is the lesser of the two evils (a slight increase to the fuel levy or e-tolling) – should reveal the motorists choice. Shouldn’t their choice be given priority?

The South African motorist should not be burdened with funding these exorbitant E-Tolling management and collection costs when this is totally unnecessary. Why provide lucrative revenue and profit streams for the companies awarded the tenders to manage e-tolling when this is unnecessary, which in itself raises questions as to the real motive for the project.

Clearly e-tolling of our urban motorways is just so wrong. This is a matter of principal and the government is being urged to rethink the process and seriously consider taking down the gantries (or use them for other law enforcement purposes by way of automatic number plate recognition to search for stolen vehicles etc.).

The Gauteng freeway user is not happy about the tolling of the routes which they must traverse on a daily basis in order to get to work and earn their living and the authorities need to take note. The alternative routes and public transport options will simply not work for commuting purposes, well not at least for 90 to 95% of the current Gauteng freeway users.

This time around, one senses that business and public alike will lay to rest an apathetic approach and stand together to stave off this over-zealous behaviour of over-taxation displayed by SANRAL. It is time we were afforded the dignity and rights of a more transparent and consultative approach in matters of such magnitude.

When citizens appreciate the injustice and undemocratic nature of such an action, they are entitled to stand together and question the logic and methodology applied.

Should we fail to oppose initiatives such as e-tolling, the Media Tribunal, the Protection of Information Bill and other such undemocratic institutions, we begin to walk down a road that can end only in the loss of our hard earned democratic freedoms. We have every right to demand that the freedoms enshrined in our constitution are not undermined.

So we ask Mr Ndebele, please reconsider the plan to tax / toll our urban routes in such an inefficient manner. We will stand with you to raise these funds in ways that are far more efficient and acceptable to the citizens whom you serve. We simply cannot afford this one.