South Africans have still not received any concrete plans regarding the discontinuation of Gauteng’s e-toll system – eight months after it was first announced that they would be scrapped.
In October 2022, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana announced that phase 1 of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project would no longer require the electronic road toll collection system (otherwise known as e-tolls), to finance Sanral’s freeway upgrade.
Since then, there have been numerous reports as to what would be done with the failed tolling project, such as converting the gantries into speed cameras or fitting them with crime-monitoring technology.
There have also been conflicting stories as to what will happen to the motorists who did and did not pay their toll fees while the system was in effect, and all the while, companies and individuals are continuing to pay for a system that is supposedly no longer in operation.
Plans for e-tolls
TopAuto contacted Sanral for an update on the e-toll debacle, including whether or not the gantries would be restructured to function as average speed over distance camera points, as had previously been suggested.
The organisation said that e-tolls have been a point of interest in the discussions between the relevant authorities but that it has been given no direct instructions on what to do yet.
“The repurposing of infrastructure etc, have served as items under discussion in the official task team working on the practical implementation of the decision to scrap e-tolls. The team is made up of the Department of Transport, National Treasury, Gauteng provincial government, and Sanral, which report to the relevant political parties,” said Sanral.
The latter includes the Minister of Transport, the Minister of Finance, and the Premier of Gauteng.
“As part of the task team, Sanral has yet to receive an instruction from the joint committee of the political principals, firmly indicating the way forward,” it said.
Last year, the group put out a tender for new contractors who would oversee the operation and maintenance of the province’s re-purposed road infrastructure.
The new services proposed include:
- Data monetization
- Account-based ticketing
- Enforcing speed-over-distance violations
- Weigh-in motion enforcement on highways
- Vehicle and driver’s licence issuing or renewal
- Using the Sanral mobile app to manage accounts
- Enabling road users to transact using e-tags on the Transaction Clearing House system
- Assisting the South African Police Service and other enforcement agencies with crime intelligence
Another idea put forward has been to convert the gantries into crime monitoring stations capable of tracking licence plates, but there have been no updates on any of these suggestions as of the time of writing.
Despite the fact that e-tolls were supposed to be scrapped on 31 December 2022, multiple delays have meant that the system is still charging motorists well into the following year.
“Six months later, the e-toll scheme continues to limp along. Thousands of individuals and companies who feel compelled to abide by the law, continue paying for a defunct scheme, while politicians fail to exercise their mandate to society for efficiency and productive management of the country’s administrative affairs,” said Wayne Duvenage, CEO of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa).
Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi attributed the delay to a pending decision as to whether or not the motorists who co-operated with the system and paid their e-toll fees would be refunded.
Outa commented that while the Premier indicated that road users would be refunded, Sanral has not done the same.
“We believe they were taken by surprise when Lesufi made this comment,” said Duvenage.
More recently, the Inclusive Society Institute NGO released a statement claiming that motorists could not be refunded, as it would not be equitable to those who have been diligently paying their fees since the programme’s launch in 2013.
“The legal opinion states that the ‘South African constitutional law dictates that the South African National Roads Agency Limited does not have the power to retrospectively excuse the nonpayment of e-toll fees once incurred’,” it said.
“The proposed course of action aimed at writing off the outstanding e-toll debt is unlawful. This means that road users that have accumulated e-toll debt have no option other than to settle such debt to Sanral.”
OUTA, on the other hand, said it does not believe Sanral will ever be able to force outstanding bills to be paid by defaulters.