E-tolls headed for failure

Two weeks after Gauteng's e-toll project was finally turned on, OUTA notes that the e-tag uptake has been far lower than initially anticipated.

17/12/2013 11:06:43

E-tolls headed for failure

"We always knew that SANRAL's e-tag sales were inflated over the past two years, but we never expected the actual e-tag numbers in use to be this low." said Wayne Duvenage, chairman of the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (OUTA).

Until e-tolling started, the public had no way of knowing what the e-tag penetration rate was and were always reliant of SANRAL’s figures to get a sense of the buy-in. However, SANRAL have never been willing to openly show their source of information from their computer screens to independent journalists and other interested parties.  Furthermore, OUTA recently exposed SANRAL’s publication of grossly misleading e-tag sales number in July this year and as a result, they believed the credibility of SANRAL’s information was dismal. “We realized that SANRAL has been trying to talk a good game and get the public to think the system was being accepted by most,” said Duvenage, who added “quite the contrary though and the few meaningful polls and research undertaken to date, all of which reflected overwhelming rejection to getting e-tags by the public, has played out in the dismal e-tag penetration rate of 15% for freeway users since the system was turned on.”

Once e-tolling had started, OUTA was able to check the penetration of e-tag sales, by conducting physical counts of cars with and without e-tags. A thorough count with extensive sample size of almost 8,000 vehicles was conducted from 5th to 13th December 2013, 5186 of which were counted at freeway on & off-ramps, to assess the actual e-tag up-take. “The results were significantly lower than the impression created by SANRAL. At a mere 15% of freeway users driving with e-tags, we extrapolate this to be around 350,000 to 400,000 e-tags in use on the Gauteng Freeways, i.e. less than half the 800,000 number indicated by SANRAL, a week into e-tolling.

According to OUTA, if indeed SANRAL’s current figure of 900,000 e-tag distribution is to be believed, something is seriously amiss and we can only ascribe their number to include e-tags farmed off to car rental and other fleets in other parts of the country, plus the hundreds of thousands of e-tags lying around in shops and storerooms, which are in effect useless, unless they are fitted in cars and creating easy revenue generation for SANRAL.

Additional information which OUTA was able to glean from their research (available on the website), shows that intersections located closer to industrial areas (Modderfontein, Marlboro Dr, Malibongwe, New Road) produced a slightly higher e-tag count (average of 18%), compared to those around residential areas (at an average of 13%). This somewhat confirms the notion that business is slightly more likely to ‘tag along’ while the public are not, but even so, the business count at just below 20% was still a massive blow to SANRAL’s plans.

This low e-tag uptake can only mean a greater indication of defiance by society against the e-toll fiasco than imagined. In addition, one can deduce that a low e-tag uptake will probably mean not much payment will be received from the non-tagged element of the freeway users. “OUTA estimates that even if SANRAL manages to extort some payment from part of the non-tagged users at higher tariffs, they will be lucky to receive 40% of their targeted e-toll revenues and as a result, the system will be doomed,” says Duvenage. “Threaten the public with criminal records and bad credit ratings will not work and will only exacerbate the problem for Government on this ill-conceived plan.”

View OUTA's e-tag penetration research here.

OUTA is a proudly South African civil action organisation, that is purely crowd funded. Our work is supported by ordinary citizens who are passionate about holding government accountable and ensuring our taxes are used to the benefit of all South Africans.