OUTA files legal application to halt e-tolls

Since the proud birth of our new democracy in South Africa, we have not seen such resistance and public outcry against a decision taken by our Government.

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23/03/2012 10:04:09

OUTA files legal application to halt e-tolls

The calls to oppose e-tolling of Gauteng’s Freeway Improvements (GFIP) are loud, filled with anger and a growing resentment toward this unnecessary burden. It is a sad day when a nation’s government develops a tense and threatening relationship with its people, when trying to force an unjust and unpopular decision into being, as is the case with this e-tolling project.

The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (OUTA) was recently formed out of a necessity for business organisations and people of similar mind to coordinate their efforts and consider a legal challenge to the e-tolling matter. Our investigation has unpacked a number of issues and transgressions that highlight a disregard for protecting the interests of the public.

Challenging the actions of one’s government in court is a most unpleasant stance to take and in this case, it is our last and very necessary resort. Our application to interdict the decision to toll Gauteng’s Freeways was issued from the Pretoria High Court on Friday 23rd March 2012.

Our opposition to e-tolling must not be confused with the GFIP. We congratulate SANRAL on a job well done in the upgrading of our freeways. The benefits of time saving, reduced vehicle running expenses and improved road safety from GFIP are not being disputed, although claims of an 8 to 1 beneficial return as espoused by some requires serious challenging. We also know and accept that we, the taxpayers, will have to pay for the GFIP.

Our issue and objection however, is with the e-tolling plan as a means of generating funds to pay for the GFIP. Our court application seeks to halt the tolling of GFIP and is undertaken largely on the following grounds:

  • The planned e-toll process is grossly expensive, inefficient and a waste of citizen’s money. It makes no sense to pay between 30% and 50% in administration and operating costs to collect the revenue for the GFIP, when existing revenue collection mechanisms will cost virtually nothing to apply.

  • It is fundamentally wrong to apply an additional tax or toll against citizens along their daily commuter routes.

  • The e-toll project is unfairly punitive to Gauteng citizens who contribute significantly more in taxes than the value and spending they receive in return. This region has more than paid for their freeway upgrade.

  • Mention has been made by SANRAL of the research conducted by the University of Cape Town - School of Business, on which they based much of their decision to toll.  We believe this report was insufficient in detail, much of it untested and its proposals have even questioned by the authorities themselves.

  • The ‘user pays principle’, as declared by SANRAL as a motive to toll the GFIP, is flawed. The productivity and efficiency of Gauteng’s economy, of which its freeways are integral, has significant benefits for the entire economy and wellbeing of all in South Africa.

  • Tolling the GFIP under the guise of a ‘user pays principle’, implies that every single urban road improvement project going forward, will need to be tolled. This will never be functional or tolerated.

  • While SANRAL have told us that they did engage and consult sufficiently before making their decision to toll, we will show that the extent of their engagement, consultation and assessments - for a project of this magnitude - was dismal and fell far short of that which was required of them. In simple terms they failed in this area and it would appear that they gave scant regard for other funding mechanisms that would be less burdensome to the road user.

  • SANRAL’s plan to toll these urban routes appears not to have heeded the requirements for a reasonably suitable alternative road network as well as the provision of sound public transport infrastructure in and around the GFIP.

We have heard suggestions that in the absence of tolling, the fuel price will have to increase by R1.00 per litre to fund the GFIP. We refute this figure and do so by applying simple arithmetic to show that an increase of between R0.08c and R0.11c per litre to the fuel levy will raise between R1,8 to R2bn per annum, which is more than sufficient to cover the repayment of the initial R20bn capital including the interest cost (at a rate of 9%), over 15 years.

Furthermore, it is a fallacy to suggest that our government cannot ring-fence levies and taxes for specific needs and purposes. It has done so for many years through our efficient revenue services department.

We sincerely believe the funding of our road infrastructure will be best conducted through a hybrid model which incorporates the national treasury as well as the fuel levy, vehicle license fees and long distance toll roads, the latter three being the best application of a ‘user pays’ mechanism in this regard.

Some proponents of e-tolling suggest the e-tolls will mainly affect the wealthy and will be of minimal burden to the poor. These statements are outrageous in the extreme and need to be challenged.

To imply that e-tolling is good because it creates 1200 jobs is a farce. These arguments and reasons thrown into the debate are red herrings and signify a desperate attempt to justify the e-toll project.   If it is job creation one seeks, there are far better ways to create up to four times as many productive jobs from the estimated R1,5bn required for e-toll administration and operations.

It must be noted that SANRAL have been very economical and rather evasive when requested to provide detailed information related to the funding models, revenue streams, anticipated expenses, expected levels of non-compliance, application of enforcement, dispute resolution mechanisms  and other pertinent questions related to e-tolling. The people and business have every right for total transparency in this regard.

In conclusion:

  • We trust and have faith that the legal process will expose these serious shortcomings of the plan to toll Gauteng’s freeways and thereby set aside this plan for the benefit of the country’s citizens and our economic development.

  • We support the government when its actions are for the betterment of society and believe it should be challenged when this is not so.

  • We believe that not all is lost with the construction costs of the gantries as these can be put to other constructive use.

  • Finally, we trust the authorities will see this challenge for what it is – a protection of the rights of its citizens, and realisation that the purpose of the public service is to serve the public, in the most efficient manner possible, at all times.

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.