The minister of Transport, Sibusiso Ndebele, has put the brakes on all work on the country’s controversial national toll roads’ project, saying there was a need for an extensive and all-inclusive consultative process with members of the public.
The minister ordered the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) to stop all toll road processes – including those in Gauteng – to make sure that all interested parties, be they groups or individuals, have their say on the project.
Work on the toll routes – the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project, the Wild Coast and the Cape Winelands Toll Highway Project has already started and is estimated to run into billions of rands.
Infrastructure is already in place along the Gauteng N1 Freeway.
Transport Department spokesman Tiyani Rikhotso said on Sunday the need to stop all processes on the tolling project temporarily had been brought about by the realisation that there was a lot of interest in the projects and people still had to give their views.
“We want to proceed with a clear conscience, we want all views to be heard, we must play our role as a government that consults and not one that pushes decisions down people’s throats,” said Rikhotso.
He said it was only right that the people from whose pockets the money to service the debt government had already incurred for the project should have a say.
Forty two electronic toll gates have been erected on Gauteng’s N1, N3, N12, N17, R21 and R24. The tolls cover a distance of about 185km.
After an outcry over the initial charges, the cabinet approved reduced toll tariffs for the Gauteng freeway improvement project and agreed that light motor vehicles would pay R0.40/km, medium vehicles R1/km, “longer” vehicles R2/km and bikers R0.24/km. Qualifying commuter taxis and buses would be exempted.
There would be a 31 percent e-tag discount, a time of day discount available, and a frequent user discount for motorbikes and light motor vehicles fitted with an e-tag.
However, amid continuing unhappiness, the Transport Department announced earlier this month that a task team had been formed to look into the issue of toll roads and would include, among others, Ndebele and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.
Sanral corporate communications officer Priya Pillay said: “Sanral will continue to serve the interest of the economy and focus on the creation of quality jobs and the development of our communities.”
She said they were faced with the challenge of ensuring that the arteries of the economy were well maintained and adequately funded. They hoped to find a sustainable solution under the leadership of the minister which would ensure that the appropriate financial instrument would be appropriately applied.
”We welcome the statement from the minister, which clarifies the situation and the leadership he has provided in what is a challenging situation with respect to the funding of the national road network of South Africa,” Pillay said.
In Gauteng e-tag outlets are already visible in a number of shopping malls and members of the public were expected to start registering for e-tag accounts next month. Toll collection was expected to commence in February.
Rikhotso said the temporary stoppage would not affect the other processes like the training of personnel to man the toll gates and other staff issues.
Ndebele, Rikhotso said, felt that the good road infrastructure needed by the country should not place a financial burden on the shoulders of the consumer.
Conceding that the first phase of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Plan had delivered good road infrastructure, he added that it was also an expensive exercise which had drawn sharp views from the public.
“We’re excited by the fact the Gauteng legislature has taken the initiative and has consultations around the toll issue scheduled for later this month,” Rikhotso said.
He said they were hoping to see similar processes, of consultations with individuals and formations, being started across the country.
Accusations around the lack of consultation and participation have been levelled at the government since the inception of the idea, and it has seen accusations ranging from the destruction of natural flora and fauna to the impact on poor communities adjacent to the toll zones.
In Gauteng objectors felt that the urban toll tariffs would harm consumers by increasing food prices and cause unnecessary financial strain on road users.
The Automobile Association called for all toll projects to be scrapped because of higher fuel prices, the effect of the recession on motorists’ cash flow and the high cost of collecting the money.
Although there were no timeframes yet within which the consultations would have to be completed, Rikhotso said they would be set out as soon as all parties started setting up discussions.
Pillay said that Sanral, as an implementing arm of the Department of Transport, would continue to implement the policies of government to the best of its abilities.
Credit to: Pretoria News and Independent Online