New Road Charges to Take Their Toll

It has finally happened. Having flown to New York at taxpayers’ expense for a UN junket, our beloved President has signed into law the new e-Tolling regulations, which will mean those of us without blue lights atop our luxury limos will have to pay extra to use many stretches of Gauteng highway. The legal challenges will continue, but this is certainly a big step in the wrong direction. Roads must be paid for, but surely not through these bureaucratic, kleptocratic and wasteful tolls. What do our experts think?

Jeff Osborne, Independent Motor Industry Analyst:
The timing of the signing of the Bill is astounding. One would have imagined that the outcome of the Supreme Court action would have been awaited. Although this now grants sweeping powers where e-tolling is concerned, one has to question, if they go ahead, whether it will work – given the myriad of unaddressed issues, and the financial woes of SANRAL?

George Glynos from ETM:
Last week we had the TransUnion Consumer Credit Index which fell to lows last seen in 2009; yesterday we had the release of the BER’s Consumer Confidence Index which fell to the lowest levels in 10 years. This frames beautifully the financial difficulties that households are faced with. The effects of a weaker ZAR which effectively reflect weakening purchasing power of every rand, and inflation – which is above 6% and eats into the disposable income of households – paint a gloomy picture for the second half of the 2013 and early 2014. The implementation of e-Tolls simply adds to that pressure and would not need to impact as heavily if the government utilised the more efficient method of tax collection through the fuel levy – rather than active tolling, which is significantly more expensive. Given that many do not have the luxury of alternative methods of transport and need to use the highway, the impact will be significant for many and we fear that there will be both economic and political ramifications to the move which we feel highlights how out of touch the government is with the will of the people.

Dawie Roodt from the Efficient Group:
My view is that the huge public protests against the tolls should rather be seen as a kind of “tax revolt” and not necessarily as anti-toll as such. Most people I have spoken to are happy to pay for the tolls as long as “my money is well spent”. People are getting tired of an ever-increasing tax burden combined with deteriorating service delivery. Once the tolls are implemented this revolt is likely to morph into another similar public protest.

Writer and motoring enthusiast David Bullard:
A bizarre move, bearing in mind that the matter is still in play, from a legal perspective. Either he (Zuma) was badly advised or the need to screw more money out of the working minority is getting rather more pressing by the day.

Leon Louw from the Free Market Foundation:
President Zuma should not sign Gauteng’s proposed gantry e-Toll system into law for reasons that are unrelated to e-Tolling. He should refer it to the Constitutional Court because the policy seems to have been adopted in violation of section 195 of our Constitution according to which policies must be preceded by effective public participation. His problem is that section 195 is routinely disregarded, especially regarding roads. A constitutional ruling in this case will have far-reaching implications for all government policies. That aside, few issues entail more muddled thinking than the e-Toll saga. What, precisely, do opponents oppose? It ranges from procedural constitutionality to whether any roads should be tolled in any way. Are objectors specifically against Gauteng gantry technology, tolling in Gauteng per se, or proposed pricing? Confusion is compounded by the fact that tolling is already commonplace and tollerated (misspelling intended) throughout the country. So why not Gauteng highways? The most distressingly idiotic objection, repeated, for instance, by leading radio talk show hosts, asserts that roads should be a free public service. Roads must be paid for, the questions are: by who; users or non-users; efficiently or inefficiently; fairly or unfairly?
Regardless of where one stands on Gauteng e-Toll technology, pricing or constitutionality, roads must be paid for. Fairness and economic efficiency suggest that people who use specific roads rather than people who don’t, should pay for them. One of the biggest problems here is that the illusion of free roads over the years has resulted in massive spacial distortions, such as people living far from where they work by virtue of the illusion that commuting is cheap. The fact that the real costs are concealed means that billions of Rands are diverted to excessive infrastructure. There should be two and only two debates, one of which is not whether there should be tolling — there should on all roads as cheap modern technology allows. Legitimate debates are (1) constitutionality and (2) best road-pricing methodology. Road tolls are, in most contexts, the best way to price and fund roads. That, emphatically, does not mean the Gauteng system, which entails real or suspected corruption on a massive scale, and, it seems, extremely cost-inefficient technology. It should be common cause that what we have now, inherited from the dreaded apartheid regime, is the worst of all worlds, whereby revenue collected from road users goes into the amorphous pot of general misallocated revenue. Until the 1980s South Africa had a sensible alternative to road tolling, a dedicated road fund, into which revenue from fuel, tyres, batteries, vehicle licences and the like was spent on roads. It was a user-pays system, albeit less precise than individual road tolls. At the very least, a dedicated road fund should be demanded by toll objectors. The debate should not be between opponents and supporters of the user pays principle, but about how best to have users fund what they use.

OUTA Chairman Wayne Duvenage:
OUTA is surprised at the President’s signing of the eToll bill into law, especially in light of very recent mention that he was considering the technicalities related to the tagging of the bill as proposed by the Freedom Front. In addition, the recent Presidential Commission on the review of State Owned Entities recommended that ‘social infrastructure, including roads, should rely less on user pays funding and more on general taxation’. Then we still have the Supreme Court’s ruling to be heard but even if this gives eTolls the green light, the real test has yet to come, that of practical implementation and enforcement. We have said in the past, laws are only as good as they are governable and eTolls will be under huge pressure in this space. It has been rejected by society at large due to its high costs, cumbersome process and anger at funds going to enrich European based Kapsch TrafficCom. The public, in my opinion, will make it unworkable, in which case, it will fail and this is the sad reality we face with a Government that refuses to listen to its people.

Conclusion::
These tolls are an inefficient way of paying for better roads. But there appear to be vested interests in the e-toll system. I worry about the impact on restaurants, gyms and other small businesses as the shrinking wallets of Gauteng motorists takes their toll, so to speak.

Tweets of the Day:
Political Humor (@PoliticalLaughs): Q: What are the three most common words in the English language? A: Made in China.
Puns (@omgthatspunny): A cardboard belt would be a waist of paper.

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