Gautrain subsidy could fund entire freeway project - AA

(Zulfa Petersen, News24)
(Zulfa Petersen, News24)

Cape Town - The Automobile Association expressed concern on Friday that the Gautrain subsidy has reached R1.5bn, saying it could fund the entire Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP).

Reacting to the announcement made by Gauteng Transport MEC Ismail Vadi at a business breakfast on Wednesday, the AA said R1.5bn a year would be enough to fund the entire annual payback costs for the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) "if one excluded the cost of the tolling infrastructure and the inflated costs arising from tender collusion on the project".

"The Gautrain subsidy is now consuming almost a quarter of the Gauteng Department of Transport's budget."

About 60 000 people a day use the Gautrain, which connects Pretoria with Johannesburg and provides a rail service to OR Tambo airport.

"The Gautrain’s fares make it clear that it is a transport mode for higher earners. It is unjust for taxpayers' money to be diverted from the transport budget to subsidise these commuters," the AA said.

The AA said millions of commuter trips are made on Gauteng's freeways every day, and that those roads remain the arteries of the province for commerce.

According to the AA the cost of installing and managing the tolling infrastructure substantially increased the cost of the GFIP, with the government claiming that tolling was chosen as a funding model because there was no money available elsewhere.

"The scale of the Gautrain subsidy demonstrates that this is not true. The R1.5bn which is being used to subsidise a minority of Gautrain commuters would have been better used to fund the roads which benefit all citizens in Gauteng Province and the country."

The AA argued that the government's selective reliance on the so-called user-pay argument for roads is not sustainable.

"The government's own review of State-Owned Entities, published in October 2013, found that there should be less reliance on user-pay funding for social infrastructure like roads," the association said.

"And if the user-pay principle is to be applied, it should be applied equally; we see no reason for the Gautrain to be exempt. We remain of the opinion that taxation is the most cost-effective way to fund transport infrastructure," the AA said.

Vadi told News24 in a June 18 interview that Gauteng residents need to change their mindsets on e-tolling, as new highways have to be built. The question is how this would be done.

His department's R6.6bn was not only for roads and was "nearly not enough to maintain the current road network".

Over R1bn was allocated to the Gautrain, and other portions were allocated to public transport, building taxi ranks, inter-modal facilities, and learner and driver testing centres, among other budgetary needs.

"So roads itself (sic) gets about R1.5bn, R2bn at most. I can't then proceed with a R2bn budget to build a new highway. So either we just defer it, we leave it, and say: 'well, another generation or another administration can deal with it' or you look for private sector participation," Vadi said.

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