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Adv. Saras Chettiar
 
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Who will win the war on E-Toll in Gauteng?

29 January 2014, 21:00

The e-tolling of Gauteng freeway has taken on its own persona in South African politics. It has become the face of the DA election campaign in Gauteng (DA Gauteng premier nominee, Maimane has stated that he will hold a referendum should he become the Premier), it is one of the major reasons for dissatisfaction among ANC voters, one of the reasons for  the break- way of NUMSA from the alliance and the non support for the ANC in the 2014 elections and Cosatu has warned the ANC would lose votes in the 2014 elections based on their stance on e-toll.

The mass civil disobedience has been likened to the mass boycott by the ANC led civil organizations of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.

 The recent bomb threats and anthrax scares at  e-toll headquarters has  taken on a new face  to the frustration of the citizens of Gauteng( It is criticized by both opposition and sanral. In my opinion, violence or the threat of violence can never be condoned ).

The ANC  led government had many opportunities to cancel the system but late last year a decision was taken by President Jacob Zuma to sign the e-toll bill into legislation which cemented the Zuma administration’s view that ,” this is not a road in Malawi” and that “we must stop thinking like Africans” and see the advantages of the e-toll system in Gauteng.

A brief analysis  from both sides reveal the stubbornness and determination to forge ahead with its own goals. OUTA ( major opponents and leaders of the civil disobedience movement) explains its reasons for the opposition of the e-toll system.

1.    E-tolling of GFIP is irrational and unreasonable

2.    These are existing routes whose base structure capital costs have been paid for through taxation over time

3.    Poor planning & incorrect information when deciding to e-Toll

4.    There are no viable alternative routes

5.    There is no effective and reliable public transport option

6.    The ‘User Pay Principle’ as argued by Government is flawed

7.    Lack of consultation and transparency

8.    Alternative models of funding

( Source - ( source  OUTA website-http://www.outa.co.za/site/about-outa/why-we-oppose-e-tolling/)

On the other  Sanral  and the Zuma administration put forward a case for the benefits of E-toll on the Gauteng road  ( source Sanral )

  • Better Roads = Better Infrastructure = Better Economy
  • Reduces the amount of time spent on the road
  • Provides free flowing traffic along the route and assists in eliminating congestion
  • Over a period of time the motorists saves on car routine maintenance
  • Reduces the amount of Carbon emission as there is less time spent on the roads
  • Improves motorist safety and security along the route as it is a free flowing collection system along a open road
  • SANRAL has implemented a Freeway Management Systems whereby roads are monitored and road user assistance along the tolled road network is improved in emergency situations.
  • Safely engineered roads which require less maintenance over greater periods of time

The synergy between  the cases made by both sides of this “war” on e-toll  relates to the economy.

Both parties agree that the road infrastructure needs to be improved. Outa and other opponents of the system believe that the present system  would be an economic downfall for the citizens of Gauteng while the government believes that the  e-toll  would allow the economic hub of South Africa  to become more economically viable. 

On the surface and with the various research papers  including the recent paper  emerging from the world economic forum in Davos, Switzerland ,economists argue that  proper road infrastructure  promotes effective economic growth.

However, it can be argued that  the term  road infrastructure  has various meanings ( not exclusive to e-toll).   There are  differing views on the manner in which  the tolling  of previously free roads should be charged  and whether  privatising  highways is a viable source of  building road infrastructure in developing countries that have social problems relating to housing, accessibility to water and electricity and food to support economic development.

A brief analysis of the various  electronic systems around the world , indicate that tolls are often used primarily for revenue generation to repay for long-term debt issued to finance the toll facility, or to finance capacity expansion, operations and maintenance of the facility itself. 

Contrary to the position, put forward by the opponents to  the e-toll, the system  has worked successfully in many continents including Europe(Austria,UK),USA, Asia and South America( Chile, Brazil).

A closer analysis of the various states where the system was successfully implemented, showed a decrease of  Co2 emissions decrease in traffic congestion as advocated by Sanral. 

 However we should question whether we are comparing apples with apples. 

In Chile for example, the e-toll operates during peak hour traffic.  The enforcement system is based on the same model that the South African system  utilizes. However we have to question whether there was a history of discontent in Chile on the same level  that we have experienced in South Africa.

The other point that needs to be examined is whether  a road which was previously “free” to the public and  maintained by other means of income previously worked using the e-toll system  which has a similar economy to the South African economy.

Do we have a feasibility study  which clearly illustrates that the e-toll system will  contribute to the economy of the country where benefits are clearly distributed to the masses? Has a study being conducted that clearly shows a decline in the traffic congestion as was conducted in the pilot programme in San Francisco prior to the implementation?

The failure of the system in Portugal has being quoted by opponents to e-toll.  In media reports  in the Portuguese Times, allegations of increase traffic congestions and higher accidents have being reported. However the failure was directly attributed to the civil disobedience and the non enforcement mechanisms. It is noted that Portugal does not utilize the same system of enforcement that South Africa and Chile utilizes.   

However  I think all parties in this war agree that the success of the  e-toll system has its foundation in the purchase of e-tags by the Gauteng citizens.

 If the reports by Outa are correct and if  the Gauteng citizens have not purchased e-tags, the system would head in the same direction as the Portuguese system.

It must be noted that the cars that have not purchased e-tags will also be captured on cameras every time it passes through the  gantries. However in an article written by Christo van Gemert ( December 16 2013 on hetx Africa), Van  Gemert states:  “A study at the University of Hertfordshire, in the UK, did in-depth analysis on the accuracy of ANPR system and found that the system often misreads certain letters, and also misreads letters that are in certain positions on the number plate.

Failure rates – where a letter is misread – were as high as 34%.”  The legality the billing through this method still needs to be tested in court.

If we had to provide a textbook winner in this battle, I would put Sanral on the side of victory based on the fact that the system is supported by the ruling party and the legislation supporting the enforcement of the tolls have being signed into legislation. 

However if we had to analyze the history of civil disobedience in the country  relating to masses of people not paying municipal bills, etc during the apartheid struggle, the determination , focus and  online marketing strategy of the opponents of the system and the present non compliance of the majority of people in Gauteng coupled with support from  major political opposition ( DA, Cosatu,Numsa,EFF and mass civil disobedience from all industries)  we have to put the opponents as victorious in the early battles.

If Sanral and the Zuma administration want the system to forge ahead and expect to get buy-in to the system, our government needs to strategically address the various issues of the opposition instead of resorting to bullying tactics.

We have to face the reality of the situation that people are unhappy and we have to address the core issues. A few pointers to Sanral  ( I am not sure if the time has passed for this strategy):-

1.    Improve and radically transform the marketing campaign  for the purchase of e-tags . The marketing strategy to date has being based on scare tactics  and defensive marketing. The history of this country and the culture of the people of our country indicates that if people are scared into obeying legislation that they don’t agree with, they are will rebel.

2.    Actively engage with opponents and all stakeholders to reach a negotiated settlement based on transparency, accountability and respect for the shallow pockets of the users of the freeway. There are various points that exist to lead to a negotiated win win situation for all parties concerned.

3.    Revision of the present autocratic and one sided terms and conditions that purchasers of e-tags are subjected to.

Nazir Alli, CEO of Sanral urges South Africans, “We must show respect for the rule of law. We can’t be selective in terms of which laws of our country we’d like to respect and which we don’t like to respect. That is what leads to a breakdown of society.”

I believe that there is merit in his argument relating to respecting the rule of law but Outa quotes, Martin Luther King, 'One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”  

We are living in interesting times in South Africa and whichever side of the fence you find yourself on, it would be interesting to watch who finally wins the battle.

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