The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) said government still failed to adequately define the proposed user-pay system for the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) and disclose details regarding its application.
The organisation’s statement followed Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe’s GFIP briefing on Thursday, where he reaffirmed Cabinet’s decision to fund GFIP through a user-pay system.
“The user-pay examples of water, electricity and telephone payments are applied nationally and with consistent applications, unlike the proposed e-tolling of GFIP, which is applied to 185 km, while many of the provincial roads upgraded by the three year R23-billion S'hamba Sonke - Moving Together - programme remain untolled,” Outa pointed out.
It urged that while the economically vulnerable must be protected, the user-pay policy required greater debate in terms of understanding and application.
Outa said it noted from Motlanthe’s statement that the Cabinet had found that e-tolling was the best option. However, the organisation pointed out that the statement conflicted with the GFIP economic analysis report, which the Graduate School of Business of the University of Cape Town prepared for the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) in 2010.
In the report it is stated that to pay for roads through taxation or through a fuel levy, would be cheaper than imposing a toll on the road, Outa said.
Further, the organisation said there appeared to be a disconnect between the Cabinet’s view of safe, reliable and accessible public transport and alternate roads in Gauteng, and reality.
It also criticised the government for relying on estimates from rating agency Moody’s for detail about the nature and extent of its monthly commitments, instead of providing more such information itself.
Moody’s estimated that Sanral could lose between R270-million and R500-million for every month tolls are not collected.
Outa said much greater transparency around GFIP costs, its operating model, funding obligations and the effect on Sanral’s debt of the R5.8-billion transfer by the National Treasury announced in the Budget speech earlier this year, might well give more confidence to road users and rating agencies.
Further, the organisation highlighted that it has consistently made a distinction between long-haul tolling and the aggressive urban tolling contemplated for GFIP, which takes aim at frequent commuters irrespective of income levels.
“The reports suggesting that the ‘rich’ will pay for the use of GFIP is strongly contested by Outa and Cosatu [the Congress of South African National Trade Unions], which continue to oppose the introduction of e-tolling,” it reaffirmed.
However, Outa warned that of greater concern was the civil disobedience that could arise if e-tolling was introduced. This could negatively impact on the country’s credit and investor ratings.
The organisation indicated that it remained willing to discuss a way forward to find the most efficient funding mechanism for all national roads and not just GFIP.