These days, Gauteng drivers are seething with resentment. Along with everybody else in South Africa, they recently saw the fuel prices top the R10 mark for the first time in history.
But that is not all. Motorised Gautengers also have the threat of highway tolls looming over their heads.
Gauteng is the economic hub of South Africa and the richest of its nine provinces. It is also the smallest, taking up the area of only 18,178 square kilometres. On the East – West axis, the furthest populated places are about 200 kilometres apart. North – South wise, that distance is somewhat bigger.
Thousands of Gautengers use the network of highways to commute between their homes and places of work. And as from next year, they may have to cough up exuberant amounts for that privilege.
About 185 kilometres of the Gauteng freeways are to get a price tag per each kilometre travelled on their (mostly) smooth surfaces. An array of not very decorative overhead toll points (gantries) have already been erected at strategic positions, though it is not clear when the authorities will start clearing the pockets of the Gauteng drivers - and at what rate.
For a standard passenger car, the tariffs of 66 cents, 58 cents, 49 cents, and, as the latest, 40 cents have been mentioned. The roads authority also promises further discounts: for having an etag, for frequent travellers, for travelling in off peak periods. However, all that is unlikely to make the motorists more favourably disposed towards the system.
The South African National Roads Agency says that Gauteng tolling system actually helps the motorists, for it will lead to better roads and reduce the cost of wear and tear on vehicles.
Gauteng has a back log of about R150 million that are needed for the upkeep and upgrade of its highways. And since the money must be found (the alternative would be allowing the network to stagnate and degrade), the Agency recons that charging the people who use the highways is the best way. After all, they argue, other services and infrastructures rely on a user-pay principle, and it would be unfair to charge those who do not use highways, for example though increased fuel levies.
However, general feeling is that toll fees, even at 40 cents per kilometre and even with all the promised discount, are still too high for both individual motorists and businesses. The AA of South Africa has come out strongly against them, with some of its representatives apparently advocating civil disobedience (refusal to pay). Trade unions are also unhappy, though their agenda is somewhat different. They worry about the additional burden on workers who have no alternative but to drive to work because of a lack of proper public transport, the additional burden on population in general due to the increases in the cost of commodities, and about “this monster called etolling” being a prelude to the privatisation of national roads. And that is totally unacceptable to the organisation that has come out strongly in favour of nationalisation of South African mines and some other now privately held assets.
Everybody points out that the project as a whole is objectionable because of the lack of public transport in Gauteng.
Recently, even the ANC in Gauteng has criticised toll fees and the tolling system in general, even calling it "just a money-making scheme”. The provincial ANC-led government was involved in the whole project, but that was years ago. Since then, new team came in, and, as they say, they did not know about the toll fees.
The National Roads Agency representatives do have a point when they say that the Gauteng highway tolls project was first made public in October 2007, but that the public and other stake holders began fuming only when the time to start paying approached, after huge amounts were already spent on setting up the system.
And therein lays another bone of contention with the Gauteng etolling: lack of transparency that seems to surround it. So far, none wanted to come out with a figure regarding the cost of the whole system. A journalist who recently asked a representative of the National Roads Agency for some figures was brushed away with a condescending: “you would not understand them anyway”.
The basics of etolls
According to the August 2011 proposed tariffs for Gauteng highways, motorcycles would pay 24 cents a kilometre, light motor vehicles 40 cents, medium vehicles R1, and longer vehicles R2 a kilometre.
Motorists who get an etag qualify for a discount, as do frequent users and those travelling at specific times of the day.
Qualifying commuter taxis and buses would now be totally exempt from paying etoll fees. Cars with foreign registration plates will not be billed either.
With etolling, there are no physical booths and queues on the highways. Motorists simply drive under a gantry which photographs the licence plate and reads the etag. Those who do not possess an etag get billed on the basis of the photograph; those who do, get the fee taken of their etag.
Understandably, the roads authorities would like to have all the motorists etagged. Originally, drivers were to pay for their etags, but now it seems that they will be able to collect them free of charge.
There has been much speculation over what the tolls may mean for property valuations however property for sale in Witbank, property for sale in Rustenburg and property for sale in Polokwane should not be affected by the tolls as these area are outside of the new Gauteng tool zone.
Read more about the Gauteng Freeway Improvement project here. In future, when the tariff proposal is finalised and the page updated, Gauteng motorists should be able to calculate their toll fees here.