Outa to appeal e-toll decision

RFA does not offer support

Outa to appeal e-toll decision tomorrow
Court Appeal

The fight against e-tolling is set to continue in the Pretoria High Court on Friday, 25 January, but without the support of the Road Freight Association (RFA) after it successfully negotiated lower toll tariffs for its members.

The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) will make an application to appeal against implementation of the government-run system to the North Gauteng High Court.

Outa believes Judge Louis Vorster’s December judgement to allow e-tolling in Gauteng was “seriously flawed” and that the court’s order that Outa pay the legal costs of the application was “unnecessarily onerous”.

The RFA has come out in support of the e-toll system in Gauteng, but will not yet support expansion of the system in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

Government’s ongoing efforts to bulldoze its highly controversial e-tolling system for South Africa’s existing and planned national roads is likely to draw more fierce public opposition, even road-blocking defiance, as an expensive legal battle on behalf of the poor and business organisations continues in the country’s courts to stop it.

So far, this opposition has blocked the implementation of not only the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP), but by implication also in the Western Cape where government wants to implement a R10-billion Winelands toll road system, and on the Wild Coast N2 route south of Durban.

The Winelands route tolling system will encompasses 105 kilometres of the N1 highway between Cape Town and Worcester – a major freeway to the north – and a 70km stretch of the N2 between Bot River and Cape Town. The project received environmental authorisation in 2003 and was gazetted as a toll road in 2008. It is opposed by the Cape Town’s Democratic Alliance-led council, which has claimed it will place an additional road maintenance burden of R100 million on the City.

The proposed N2 Wild Coast toll road asperations by the SA National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) envisage a toll plaza at Isipingo, south of Durban.

In October 2011, former Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele ordered Sanral to halt all road project processes related to the tolling of national roads, saying that good infrastructure was a necessity for a better future for SA, but adding that “this requirement must not leave our people even poorer.” 

All spheres of the government should be part of a consultative process with all affected parties, he said.

The suspension of toll road projects across the country has drawn wide approval, including from the SA Municipal Workers Union, the Freedom Front Plus (FF Plus) and AfriForum. 

Cape Town argued that the declaration of the N1 and N2 as toll routes was a flawed and illegal process, the imposition of which would amount to unfair discrimination against largely poor and black communities.

Despite all this, government said in December last year that it would be going ahead as planned and that the system would be implemented in Gauteng as soon as all processes have been finalised.

This was according to the Department of Transport (DoT), and came despite news that the Outa was going to submit its application for leave to appeal a High Court ruling on 13 December, giving open road tolling in Gauteng the green light. 

It dismissed a claim by Outa that Sanral had a deliberate strategy to keep the public in the dark and that public participation was not adequately done. The court dismissed the application and ordered Outa to pay the legal costs involved in the application.

At the time, the Automobile Association of SA, the Congress of SA Trade Unions, the FF Plus, the DA and the Justice Project SA all expressed their disappointment with the court ruling.

Meanwhile, following discussions with the Treasury and Sanral, the RFA has come out in support of the GFIP system, but not the other toll projects.

It has been able to lobby for better tariffs for its members with tariffs for Class B & C vehicles down by 51% of original tariff excluding discounts. Class B are now R1.56 down to R0.75 and Class C tariffs are R3.98 down to R1.51 (including VAT).

According to an RFA statement to its members, time-of-day discounts have been extended with freight having been given  20% discount within the peak traffic periods from 08h30 to 10h00 and 14h00 to 16h00 due to the delivery demands of goods. The time-of-day discount has been increased to 30% from 23h00 to 05h00, and a 31% e-tag discount was increased from 25% off the base tariff.

Capped amounts will allow members to include the full cap in their contracts and can be claimed as the e-tolls are a statutory charge.

The RFA has in addition lobbied for:

  • Time of day discounts from 30% to 35% and 20% to 25%;
  • The current e-tag discount of 31% be increased to 40% for RFA members only;
  • Overall cap of R1 500 per vehicle (both class B and C);
  • Annual toll tariff increases would be limited to consumer price index increases.

The association says ring-fenced funds (tolls are in effect a ring-fencing mechanism) will be dedicated to the building and maintenance of roads as opposed to the fuel levy, which has to be apportioned and allocated to roads on a matter of government priority.

The RFA has been acknowledged as a key stakeholder and will be closely consulted in all future road infrastructure programmes. It says an independent regulator is now in the process of being set up. The RFA previously called for an independent regulator and lobbied against the proposed 'economic regulator', which would have been set up within the DoT and would have prejudiced operators.

The minimum period for comment on published government gazettes has been set at 30 days.

The RFA says it has strongly opposed the Cross-Border Road Transport Agency being given the function of collecting e-tolls, following the qualified audit the agency has received “due to it not being able to assess the completeness of penalties and other revenue. In addition, a number of investigations into allegations of fraud and other irregularities at the agency are under way”.

Furthermore, the RFA has noted its concern that the proposal to allow Sanral to operate outside of the National Credit Act may create further complications when measures are instituted to recoup or collect owed tolls (or any outstanding financial obligations).

The RFA has made it clear that it will support the tolls based on the rates and discounts on GFIP only, and may not support any future e-toll expansion.

“We have also clearly stated that our support of the GFIP does not equate to a blanket approval of any other toll project, and would require open and honest access to any other proposed toll project so that the impact on operators and the economy alike can be fully ascertained well in advance.”

Meanwhile, Outa’s legal costs are mounting. While a fund-raising campaign is under way, the alliance is still R2.5 million short in terms of covering current costs – with an additional R1.5 million needed for the appeal process.

“We are heartened by the fact that society has helped us raise R8 million to date; however, we are still short. We urge the public to go to the Outa website to make their contribution.”

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