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“Scrapped” e-tolls are still billing drivers

During his State of the Province address on 20 February, Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi said “e-tolls have been scrapped permanently in our province.”

However, according to the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), “the situation remains exactly as it has been since the Finance Minister announced in his October 2022 Medium-Term Budget Policy statement.”

“The e-toll system remains intact and continues to bill motorists every day.”

Outa said numerous businesses and individuals continue to pay e-toll bills as they are still being invoiced for the scheme regularly.

“Some businesses refuse to stop paying until the final decision has been announced to turn the scheme’s billing system off, and until that happens, they remain uncompetitive and subjected to unnecessary expenses,” said the organisation.

“OUTA calls on the four parties (Treasury, Minister of Transport, Sanral, and the Gauteng provincial government), who are all party to this never-ending imminent decision, to bring this scheme to a close once and for all.”

E-toll payers to be refunded… eventually

During the October 2022 medium-term budget speech, finance minister Enoch Godongwana announced that the Gauteng provincial government and national government agreed to contribute 30% and 70%, respectively, to service Sanral’s debt and interest obligations, which includes the controversial e-tolls.

At the time, Sanral received R23.7 billion from the national government for assistance in relieving the debt, which the agency called a “partial solution.” Since then, Sanral has also moved at least R2.2 billion from its non-toll road account to the GFIP ledger, said Outa.

Following the minister’s announcement, the Gauteng government took over the maintenance of the scheme and the responsibility of deciding its future.

Shortly thereafter, the provincial authorities said that the tolling infrastructure could be repurposed with one possible use case being law enforcement by means of average speed monitoring, but nothing was yet committed.

In January 2023, however, Lesufi revealed that e-tolls were supposed to be completely scrapped by 31 December 2022, but that a key issue that led to the delay of the shutdown was the decision on whether or not compliant motorists should be refunded.

The choice was made that road users who have been diligently paying their accounts over the years will be refunded, but the main roadblock now is to find a way to reimburse these businesses and individuals.

“It’s clear we have to refund people. We will refund people who have paid. The outstanding debate is the manner in which they will be refunded,” the premier said.

While the discussion on repayments is ongoing, Outa’s evidence points to the e-toll system continuing to operate and billing drivers.

The failed tolling project had a compliance rate of around 17% which comes to a total refund amount of approximately R6.9 billion – a not insignificant sum, said Lesufi. This is in addition to the R12 billion that the Gauteng government must now put toward the Sanral debt, which the province has requested to pay over a 20-year period.

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