One year on, e-tolls remains an embarrassing mess
It’s called Democracy. South Africa is suffering from a power failure. No, not just that of Eskom, but the mistaken belief by an out-of-touch leadership, that power equates to authority. In the case of e-tolling, those in power believed that by passing a law and forcing an unjust system onto it’s people, it would all simply happen, just as SANRAL had convinced them it would.
So it was that one year ago on 3rd December 2013, the Department of Transport decided - following a two year delay and late preparation of the regulatory environment - it was all systems go for the launch of Gauteng’s e-toll scheme. It was a decision taken against the wishes and warnings of their critics and the public at large.
The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (OUTA), the Catholic Church, COSATU, JPSA and numerous other organisations had worked tirelessly to convince the authorities to change their minds. They sincerely believed up until November 2013, enough insight was shared to convince the authorities that SANRAL's e-toll scheme was doomed to fail.
Confident in their knowledge gained from extensive research, OUTA predicted the e-toll system would suffer from its glaring impracticalities, inefficiencies and the inaccuracies of an error riddled e-Natis system. Furthermore, without the public’s acceptance, low compliance would eventually render the system unworkable and unenforceable.
“For these reasons, we were disappointed but unperturbed when the Minister of Transport and the SANRAL entourage announce the system’s launch date of 3rd December,” says John Clarke, OUTA’s Spokesperson. “This was a case of self-deception that would come at great cost to the SANRAL and society at large, as the system had all the signs of failure”.
As it turned out, instead of SANRAL announcing the scheme’s first anniversary with pride and success, their Board must surely be pondering on where and why it all went so pear-shaped. How was it after all these years of preparation and a multi-million rand marketing campaign, that…
Their initially stated target of 93% e-toll payment compliance was never achieved by even half that figure and now stands at 35%, despite months of intimidation and threats of enforcement.
They underestimated the extent of the impact of an erroneous e-Natis system, which gave rise to hundreds of thousands of motorists never receiving their e-toll invoices.
In the absence of AARTO, a switch to the criminal prosecution enforcement process was more problematic and impractical than envisaged.
The scheme’s complexity gave rise to numerous billing errors and administrative challenges which made the system more unworkable than anticipated.
The exempted taxi industry would become frustrated and denounce the scheme, and that virtually none of the 46,000 e-tags allocated to taxis were installed within the first year of operation.
The Advertising Standards Authorities would rule against their misleading advertising campaign in July 2014.
The Minister of Transport’s announcement in July, of an extension to the payment period from seven to 51-days at discounted tariffs, failed to entice greater public participation. In addition, these new regulations were never gazetted or even implemented by SANRAL.
The ANC in Gauteng would introduce an e-Toll Advisory Panel to assess the impact of e-tolls on the province and would go on to denounced the scheme and express unhappiness at SANRAL’s behavior and handling thereof.
SANRAL’s initial rebuttal of the panel’s importance was followed up by four days of presentation, filled with advisory justification and economic reasoning that gave rise to more questions than answers.
OUTA recounts the past year as being a hectic period for SANRAL. “We do however believe it was a year of learning, as we pay homage to the father of our nation and resupporter Madiba’s ethos of truthful and meaningful, participative engagement in times of conflict resolution. We can only hope that sanity will prevail on the e-toll fiasco, very early in 2015,” says Wayne Duvenage, OUTA’s Chairperson.