There had been numerous opportunities to oppose the e-toll system after it was announced four years ago, the High Court in Pretoria heard on Thursday.
"There was a public announcement in 2008. This was not a secret process; you could drive on the roads and see that there was work being done," SA National Roads Agency Ltd (Sanral) lawyer David Unterhalter said.
He said the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) must explain why it did not act against the tolls over the last four years.
"It is not surprising that there is opposition now, when it is time to pay," he said.
He said Sanral understood that there were efforts to stop the launch, because every new public service that required people to pay for it always made people "unhappy".
"It is the oldest story in the world."
He said people paid for electricity from Eskom as well as water and sanitation services from their municipality.
"We do not want to live in a society where if some people don't want to pay for those services, we should not offer those services at all."
Judge Bill Prinsloo was hearing responding arguments from Sanral against Outa's application to have an urgent interdict delaying the launch of the tolls.
Unterhalter said the effect of the interdict would be felt for several years afterwards.
"The interdict is like asking a shop owner to close its doors for a few months. The damage is done in months, but will take years to rehabilitate. Just look at Greece."
He said the interdict would cost Sanral over R200 million a month and would affect its ability to pay its creditors, and that would impact on South Africa's credit rating.
He said the decision to toll Gauteng's highways was based on a complex situation, and was completely rational.
"When the applicants [Outa] say it would cost R20 billion over 20 years for the e-toll project, they have only looked at a piece of a puzzle and made an assessment," Unterhalter said.
Their assessment was based on a 60 percent delinquency rate for motorists.
"When we have more reasonable levels of compliance, then the amounts will make more sense. If you run after a lot people to pay, the costs will go up."
He said documents signed by the minister of transport for the approval of the e-tolls did not say it was contingent on the province having "sufficient alternative methods of public transport".
"It referenced the desire of the project to promote the alternatives."