Using highways will take its toll on drivers

2011-07-02 19:23

Road users in Gauteng might be getting a slight break on tollroad fees, but they will still ultimately pay the full price.

The lowered tariffs for Gauteng’s highways, announced this week, will cost the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) more than R6 billion.

If the proposed lower tariffs are accepted, motorists will initially pay less, but will pay R6 billion more over the long term, and for 30 months longer.

One of the suggestions, made by a committee appointed by Transport Minister S’bu Ndebele, is that normal passenger vehicles with an e-tag will pay 36.3c a kilometre instead of 50c. Heavy vehicles’ e-tag tariff will be lowered from R2.97 a kilometre to R2.

But details about discounts for individuals driving outside peak hours, and for regular users, were not made public, making it difficult to determine the impact of the decreases for individual users.

George Mahlalela, director-general of transport and chairperson of the committee, said during a news conference that the decreases were made possible by:

» The restructuring of Sanral’s debt;

» Changes in the discount structure; and

» The removal of costs involved in debt-collecting from the agency’s model.

The government would carry the costs in future. Sanral earlier explained they would not take out loans to finance the construction of the new roads.

They would constantly issue shares to obtain money for their toll portfolio, the interest rate and terms of which would be determined by market conditions.

The shares would be sold to investors such as pension funds. Every six months, the agency would make a rent payment to its shareholders and at the end of the term, there would be a large lump-sum payment.

According to the model on which the tariffs were initially based, the road agency’s maximum debt level would have been R48 571 million. With the new lowered tariffs, it will go up to R54 604 million, the maximum allowed by the Treasury.

Further, the debt will only be paid in the middle of 2030, as opposed to the end of 2028.

The debt for the Gauteng project wouldn’t be separate and the amounts based on Sanral’s whole toll portfolio.

Coenraad Bezuidenhout, acting CEO of the economic policy unit, Business Unity South Africa (Busa), which was part of the public participation process, said the information made available on the financing of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project was completely flawed. He said the new information did not correspond with what was previously discussed with Busa.

“Busa’s position is that the terms of financing of infra-structure should agree with its user lifetime. To pay it over a shorter time period could cause an economic shock.”

Bezuidenhout said the fundamental issue was whether financing should come from the tolling of urban highways or from fuel taxes.

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