Why the new e-tolls system will not work
If government believed that reduced e-toll tariffs would trigger an overwhelming buy-in to the controversial e-tolling system, it seems to have once again misjudged the level of public resistance to the scheme.
A study conducted in April by Ipsos prior to last week’s announcement of the new e-toll dispensation showed 74% of Gauteng motorists believed the government should find an alternative to the e-toll system in Gauteng.
Judging by the social media barometer, last week’s fees reduction appears to have done little to change this sentiment and the court of public opinion still favours a fuel levy over e-tolls as a funding method for freeway upgrades.
Government last week announced that all light motor vehicles - whether they have an e-tag or not - will be charged the existing e-tag rate of 30c/km. Until now non e-tag users have been charged 58c/km. The monthly cap has also been halved from R450 to R225.
As part of a phased roll-out of the new dispensation to be implemented by the end of 2016 it also announced there will be no amnesty for non-payers, but currently outstanding e-toll fees will be discounted by 60% and users will have six months to pay.
However, the carrot comes with a stick: motorists will need to settle any outstanding e-toll fees before they can renew their vehicle licence discs.
Feasible way out?
On social media, drivers are reacting to this aggressive new tactic by saying they’ll simply cough up the R250 fine for driving with an outdated licence disc, which is a lot cheaper than paying for e-tolls.
Insurance companies have confirmed that invalid licence discs won’t invalidate claims. However, a problem will arise when it comes to selling a vehicle, which the new owner won’t be able to register without it having an up-to-date licence.
There’s no current provision in the law to link licence-renewals to e-tolls but Sanral and the Department of Transport have started the process to get the legislation changed over the next six to 18 months.
This, says Sanral, will make it an administrative process to recover outstanding toll fees rather than going through the courts.
While the social media rants remain vociferous, the lowered monthly cap is likely to see some motorists reconsider their e-toll boycott campaign, and possibly decide to capitulate and start paying.
Especially as government’s digging in its heels with the user-pays principle and it seems increasingly unlikely that it’ll tear down the e-tolls in favour of funding road upgrades with the fuel levy that has been widely suggested.
The real issue
While motorists generally aren’t opposed to paying for upgraded freeways, the objection is to government choosing the most expensive funding option when there are cheaper and more efficient methods available.
A fuel levy, in contrast to e-tolls, isn’t amplified by administration and collection costs.
Government rejects the idea of a provincial fuel levy, claiming it would be approximately 3.4 times higher than a national fuel levy.
It also rather bizarrely believes motorists would be willing to burn extra fuel driving to a neighbouring province in order to fill up with cheaper fuel, leading to reduced fuel sales in Gauteng.
Just as bizarrely, in its booklet spelling out the revised e-toll dispensation it claims that “surveys do not indicate that the e-toll system is unpopular”. This indicates that government is either wildly out of touch with reality or is trying to befuddle the populace with doublespeak.
But the masses aren’t buying it. It’s clear the public voice wasn’t heeded again and it’s likely that many, if not most, motorists will continue boycotting e-tolls.