A look at two years of e-toll failure

This week, two years ago, on the third of December 2013, the e-toll scheme was launched, despite overwhelming public dissention and warnings that it would not be an effective ‘user-pays’ mechanism to service the Gauteng freeway upgrade bonds.

01/12/2015 11:38:51

A look at two years of e-toll failure

OUTA’s research and position paper on the e-tolls scheme (Beyond the Impasse), provided an indication of what would might transpire if the system was forced into place and why it was doomed from the outset. Virtually all of OUTA’s predictions of a largely unworkable scheme, packed with errors and low collection rates, have transpired.

OUTA’s research - which studied international examples of failed and successful electronic tolling schemes - identified eight critical factors required for e-toll systems to succeed. SANRAL failed on all counts and five of these elements were:

  1. A high degree of public support with strong advocates of acceptance:
    This was not the case with Gauteng’s e-tolls, which peaked at R120 million per month by June 2014, less than half their original target of R260m. By mid-2015, less than 10% of road users were generating around 23% of SANRAL’s required e-toll revenue levels.

  2. Weak oppositional forces to the scheme:
    On the contrary for SANRAL, the public’s outrage has been supported by virtually all political parties (barring one), labour movements, civil action groups and most business associations, all of which have overwhelmingly opposed the e-toll scheme.

  3. Alternative public transport systems need to be adequate and reliable:
    In Gauteng’s case, aside from Gautrain (which only caters for 6% of the regular commuter traffic, between Pretoria and Johannesburg), public transport alternatives have fallen dismally short of catering for the vehicle bound commuters in the province.

  4. The pricing and billing systems need to be simple and user friendly:
    SANRAL’s e-toll scheme was troubled with complicated tariff and payment structures from the outset, which left most users confused. Even the 46,000 Gauteng taxis that were exempt from paying e-tolls, were never fitted with e-tags or properly registered with the scheme, giving rise to more doubt about the scheme’s workability.

  5. The technology and data needs to be extremely reliable and trusted:
    With the scheme’s reliance on e-Natis and thousands of billing errors, e-tolls were generally not regarded as trustworthy. This was compounded by a court dismissal of the system’s information which was found to be inaccurate.

These factors coupled with an ongoing lack of transparency by SANRAL, culminated in the public’s resistance and a R6 billion shortfall in collections (at discounted tariffs), in the first two years of operation. Investor confidence also waned as SANRAL struggled to sustain interest at their bond auctions.

Of the roughly R8 billion invoiced over the past two years at discounted tariffs, only R1,8 billion (or 23%) was collected and virtually all of this has been spent on the collection process managed by Kapsch TrafficCom’s ETC (Electronic Tolling Collection company) and its supplier companies. Virtually nothing has been directed toward servicing the road construction debt.

A host of other incidents dealt additional blows to the system’s integrity, further alienating the public and businesses from the scheme, causing many to cancel their e-toll contracts. Some of these blows were:

  • The Competition Commission issued certificates to SANRAL to pursue inflated road construction prices from collusive construction companies. Their lack of enthusiasm to share detailed plans with the public in this regard has been nothing short of disappointing.

  • OUTA’s research and opinion expressed that SANRAL had grossly overpaid for the Gauteng freeway upgrade, by as much as 67%.

  • Several of SANRAL’s adverts were ruled to be misleading by the Advertising Standards Authority throughout 2014 and 2015.

  • Ongoing exposure of SANRAL’s exaggerated e-tag sales claims, which highlighted their misleading impression of the scheme's success.

  • The Randburg Magistrate Court's dismissal of inaccurate gantry information provided during the Duduzane Zuma accident case in November 2014.

  • The Minister of Transport’s announcement in Parliament in July 2014, that prosecution against e-toll defaulters was not an option the Government could realistically pursue to enforce compliance under the current circumstances.

  • The Western Cape's successful court challenge to halt SANRAL's irrational concessionaire plan to toll the Cape Town freeway upgrade.

  • The Freedom Front’s exposure of the e-toll scheme’s failure to have its systems verified by the National Regulator for Compulsory Specifications (NRCS) in terms of the Metrology Act, and pending the ruling by the Consumer Commission.

  • “One would imagine that given this backdrop, the authorities would have come to their senses and halted this expensive irrational scheme, further sparing the taxpayer millions of rands on a wasteful e-toll marketing campaign,” says Wayne Duvenage, OUTA’s Chairman. “Instead, SANRAL have tirelessly launched failed campaign after campaign, with their latest 60% discount being a desperate 'last roll of the dice', to claw back some of the six billion rands in unpaid e-toll bills.”

Over the past year, the e-toll scheme’s collection process has literally being kept on ‘life support’ by government vehicles and a handful of large logistic and fleet based organisations, who are fed up with the scheme but do not have an appetite to rock government’s boat.

The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (OUTA) anticipates that SANRAL will shortly unleash another costly propaganda drive, in an attempt to paint another false impression of the public’s uptake of their latest dispensation. However, all indications point to a low uptake of their latest offer which has fallen well short of the billions of rands of outstanding e-toll bills they had hoped for.

OUTA is a proudly South African civil action organisation, that is purely crowd funded. Our work is supported by ordinary citizens who are passionate about holding government accountable and ensuring our taxes are used to the benefit of all South Africans.