Tolls: AA warns of disgruntled motorists
Cape Town - The Automobile Association (AA) has raised the spectre of civil disobedience against tolling on the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP).
Reacting to Deputy Transport Minister Jeremy Cronin's announcement on Thursday that Cabinet had approved reduced toll tariffs for the GFIP phase A1, AA spokesperson Gary Ronald said it appeared that all intentions of a fund to alleviate tolling had disappeared, leaving the public to foot the bill.
"The questions was - now what?" he asked in a statement.
While industry as a whole now waited for the SA National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) to announce the date tolling would begin, the AA did not see the implementation of tolls, even slightly discounted, as a "victory for the people on the ground" - as coined by government spokesperson Jimmy Manyi.
Rather, it seemed that with the exclusion of public transport from tolling, "the usual suspects" were left to foot the bill - which was more like another blow to the head of the motorist than a victory for the people.
"Commodities are going to cost more as a direct result of the tolls and effectively, the poor will be worst off."
The issue of civil disobedience would be the next hurdle for the government to overcome.
Next course of action
"If the public rally together and stand firm in the face of tolling by not registering for e-tags and flagrantly disregarding tolling costs and consequent fines, will the authorities have the wherewithal to manage a disgruntled five million motorists?
"Affected industry groups have been expecting the toll announcement and, now that the tariff has been set, will be considering their next course of action in the days ahead," he said.
Earlier, Cronin told a media briefing following Wednesday's fortnightly Cabinet meeting that motorcyclists would pay 24c/km, light motor vehicles 40c/km, medium vehicles R1/km, and "longer" vehicles R2/km.
Qualifying commuter taxis and buses would be exempted entirely.
In addition to the 31 percent e-tag discount, other discounts applicable would be a time of day discount available to all vehicles, and a frequent user discount for motorcycles and light motor vehicles fitted with an e-tag.
Cabinet had agreed that Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele should give effect to the approval in terms of the Sanral and National Roads Act, Cronin said.
The Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) said it was shocked and angered by the announcement.
"Government had earlier promised that they would consult with the public before charging tolls," said spokesperson Patrick Craven in a statement.
"Yet at the only meeting to which Cosatu Gauteng was invited, they were simply told that the tolls were going ahead. That is not consultation!"
He contended that the widespread opposition to the toll proposal had been ignored, and that this would impose a huge burden on road users.
Craven warned that if there was no change to this policy, demonstrations, pickets, and stayaways would be planned.
"The federation will continue to demand as its alternative to tolled roads, an integrated, safe, reliable and affordable public transport system."
In a statement, the Democratic Alliance's Neil Campbell said the toll fees as announced were still too high and would add unacceptably to the costs of doing business in the province.
"While we welcome the exemption for commuter taxis and buses, the private motorist will be hit exceptionally hard.
"We are still in the dark about the real costs of operating the e-tolling system, which is possibly as high as R14bn over eight years."
This seemed to be excessive and would be difficult to implement in a situation where many people were hard to trace and many licence plates were fraudulent.
The DA was concerned the toll fees would rise further over the years.
"We are paying the price for extremely poor planning by the Gauteng provincial government," Campbell said.
The SA National Taxi Council (Santaco) welcomed the exemption for taxis.
"The exemption relieves the taxi industry from the high operational costs that operators are presently struggling to survive in their day to day business operations," it said in a statement.
Soften the blow
In another statement, Business Unity SA (Busa) said the e-tolling system would still introduce significant administrative and cost complexity for business that would be felt right across the spectrum - by the tourism industry, manufacturers, and small business.
"The seven-day payment terms requirement still remains a concern, as it will cause cash flow disruptions.
"While we believe that the reduction in tolls and the exemptions granted to taxis and commuter buses will to some extent soften the pain to commuters, it does undermine the 'user-pay' principle and complicates the criteria applied in deciding which vehicles would be subject to tariffs and which not."
Busa said the cost impact on fast-moving consumer goods, particularly basic foodstuffs, would still be felt most significantly by working and unemployed poor.