The revised e-toll tariffs, announced by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday, has solicited mixed reactions from businesses, the public and unions in South Africa. Although still generally rejected by the broader public, Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) welcomed the announcement on the new e-tolls dispensation. “We are particularly pleased with a hybrid funding model that cements the user-pays-principle while incorporating a contribution from the fiscus, which would alleviate the strain on middle and working class South Africans during tough economic conditions,” it noted. Road users in Gauteng would pay up to 50% less a month‚ while those with outstanding amounts owed to the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) would be offered a 60% discount to settle their bills. Ramaphosa also said that drivers of light motor vehicles would now pay a maximum of R225 a month‚ half what was currently charged. Minibus taxis and commuter buses remained exempt from paying e-tolls. BLSA noted that this was ”sensible” and signaled the importance of critical infrastructure. It also welcomed the positive signal of government’s responsiveness and compromise, adding that the announcement was a step in the right direction. Business Unity South Africa (Busa) also lauded the proposed reduction in e-toll tariffs and caps, as well as the efforts made to make the e-tolling system user-friendlier. “We support efforts to upgrade the national road network using an appropriate funding mechanism which is both administratively efficient and equitable. However, we remain concerned that the current funding model continues to exacerbate the costs of doing business,” it said in a statement on Thursday. It also welcomed the continued exemption of public transport from e-toll tariffs and the ongoing investment in the alternative Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) road network and provincial public transport services. “We look forward to the completion of these various efforts which should result in an integrated public transport system, which will offer a safe, affordable and reliable alternative for Gauteng commuters and an alternative to the GFIP road network. The latter will undoubtedly help alleviate the current congestion on Gauteng roads,” Busa noted. Counseling firm Debt Rescue reiterated that reduction in toll fees would have a significant positive impact on hard-pressed consumers. CEO Neil Roets noted that this move would bring some relief from the crushing debt load most South Africans had to cope with, particularly those who used the toll roads daily. “The overwhelming majority of South Africans are so deep in debt that even a slight increase in the cost of essential goods and services could plunge them into a disastrous situation that would be very difficult to recover from,” he stressed. The fact that total consumer debt now tops R1.427-trillion showed that consumers were having a “very hard time”, Roets added. On the other side of the fence, the Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa) rejected the new proposal to reduce the e-toll tariffs as this would entrench the user-pay system within metropolitan areas. Fedusa president Koos Bezuidenhout noted that government also did not indicate the process to review the future tariff increases of e-tolls, which created uncertainty and would result in continuous nonpayment and the boycott by road users. “This approach is contradictory to the principle of public finance and is indicative to the principle of the ability to pay; the burden is effectively shifted to the working people in Gauteng,” he said. Fedusa general secretary Dennis George added that the system was expensive to administer and government failed to consult within National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) with the social partners at this level to offset a more effective and efficient system, based on the fuel levy system, which was easier to administer. Fedusa called on government to abandon the e-toll system and introduce a new proposal to Nedlac dealing with the burning issues of funding of new roads and maintaining thereof over the short, medium and long term. ISSUE OF LICENCE DISCS Non-profit company Justice Project South Africa (JPSA) eased worried minds regarding the statement that e-tolls would be linked to licence disc renewals, noting that several processes would need to be adhered to before the stipulation could be instigated. “As things stand right now, this provision, along with all of the other changes announced around e-tolls yesterday will have to be reduced to writing in the form of draft regulations amendments and such draft published for public comment, Interested parties will then have 30 days from the time of publication of that government gazette to make written representations to the Department of Transport (DoT),” the organisation said. It further advised that only when that process has been completed and Transport Minister Dipuo Peters had “applied her mind” to all the submissions received, may amended regulations be published. “Withholding the issue of licence discs, while sounding easy enough, may not pass constitutional muster since it would be tantamount to forcing a person who has in fact paid licence fees to renew their licence but to whom a licence disc has been refused to contravene the National Road Traffic Regulations by not displaying a current licence as prescribed,”JPSA stated. Even if this proposed amendment were to pass constitutional muster, there was no guarantee that holding motorists “ransom” by withholding a licence disc would have the desired effect of forcing people to pay their outstanding e-toll bills. “Government does not have the information technology and the infrastructure to administer such an approach,” Fedusa added. “In fact, quite the opposite is true and the possibility of a whole new industry of mass false licence disc production could become a very real possibility. Displaying a counterfeit licence disc is a serious criminal offence for which a person would be charged criminally and such counterfeit discs can be detected by the equipment contained in the now infamous e-toll roadblocks Sanral vans and trucks,” JPSA added. Not displaying a current licence disc is, however, under the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences Act, a minor infringement, resulting in a R250 fine, discounted by 50% if paid within 32 days. The consequence of not paying such a fine could, after the prescribed period and processes have ensued, lead to an enforcement order being issued, thereby blocking licensing transactions on the National Traffic Information System, or eNaTIS, against the person whose licence disc had already been refused. “In other words, that person would then not only have unpaid e-tolls and no licence disc, but would also have one or more unpaid traffic fines which can currently proceed no further than an enforcement order and would, therefore, constitute no real further consequence,” JPSA explained. “If this provision does go through and people dig their heels in, it may be found by the Gauteng provincial government and all licensing authorities in Gauteng that the tactic of withholding licence discs will have a profound negative impact on their own licensing income revenues,” it added. With Gauteng’s vehicle population being the greatest in South Africa – 38.87% of the country’s vehicle population of 11.4-million – the licensing fees generated in Gauteng were far from “chump-change” and if civilians stopped paying, it would represent a significant revenue drain for the province and for the DoT. “It is indeed a pity that government has insisted on persisting with trying to make work,” JPSA noted, as it had already demonstrated itself to be a failed and unworkable system, which was additionally enormously unpopular and entirely inappropriate for South Africa. The new regime would be introduced in stages over the coming two to three months.
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