Ben Kelly
Ben Kelly

Just pay the tolls goddamnit!

E-tolling, the practice of the government extracting yet more money out of the good citizens of Gauteng via their love of the motor vehicle, reaches fever pitch yet again today.

The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance is going to court to get an urgent interdict to stop the implementation of the system on April 30. While there is a part of me that would like to see the system delayed, and not just because I have to drive to Midrand and back that evening, the simple fact is that these efforts are going to be in vain in the long run.

The reason why they are applying for an urgent interdict is that once the system is operational it will be next to impossible to stop it and possibly refund the monies paid already.

Despite my personal wish not to have to pay more for the roads I drive on, I am convinced that we should get this system up and running on schedule for a number of reasons.

1. We all knew this was coming.

When they started upgrading the highways in advance of the World Cup, there was no doubt in my mind that in the long run I was going to have to pay for the roads via a toll system. I may be slightly better informed than the average man in the street, but I can’t believe that people did not expect to have to pay for the roads.

2. Government has come to the party.

Just like annual salary negotiations at work when the employer starts at 2% and the unions start at 20% and we settle on 6%, the negotiations over the rate are largely over. The original rates were way too high and with the additional funding from treasury (or the taxpayers if you want to be pedantic), the rates are now much more reasonable. Anyone who expects them to drop further is smoking their socks.

3. E-tolling is the most effective way of collecting this money.

I am not debating whether we are getting a good deal from our current service provider. It appears that our Austrian friends have done a great job of negotiating themselves a sweetheart deal and Sanral would be well advised to renegotiate this contract in short order. However, increased fuel levies or special taxes on license fees are all less than optimal ways of ensuring that the roads get paid for. Sanral needs a direct way of collecting money without the treasury getting in the way.

All of that said, there are a few things I would like to see coming out of the process and most of this has to do with increased transparency on the part of Sanral.

I would like to know exactly how much the roads cost, how much has to be repaid by Sanral and how much of that is capital repayment and how much is interest.

I would also like Sanral to disclose, preferably on a monthly basis, how much money has been collected by the e-toll system. This should indicate how much was paid for administration of the system and what percentage went to interest and what the outstanding capital amount for the system is. What I don’t want to see is this project subsidising other projects elsewhere in the country. If Sanral wants to build better roads elsewhere, then it should make those people pay for them just like we have to.

If revenues exceed projections then the excess funds should be used to repay the debt faster, even if it is just a notional repayment.

Once the capital has been paid off the e-tolls could be reduced to a care and maintenance rate, but by then there will probably be a need for a new highway improvement project and we could use the tolls to pay for that.

The simple issue is this: the tolls, as unpleasant as they are, are a necessary evil. Any further delays are just a sideshow, which will only make the lawyers richer.

All that is left now is for me to go out and get my e-tag. But that will have to wait for payday.

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