The ANC government has dithered and refused to contemplate a fuel levy – even though modest ones (and even regional ones) would have paid off the project cost by now.
The outrageous, expensive farce that is the Gauteng e-toll highway system has taken a further lurch into the bizarre with the claim that, from midnight last night, the collection system has been operating illegally.
This is because, according to Outa (Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse), the contract for collection of toll fees – awarded to foreign-led consortium ETC – cannot be legally extended, as the SA National Roads Agency (Sanral) says it has done. Sanral, naturally, claims it is acting within the bounds of the original collection contract, signed in 2013.
The latest development will further harden attitudes among motorists to e-tolls. Already, Sanral has conceded that only one in five motorists using the roads of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Scheme is paying to do so. This has caused the roads agency to lose billions of rands and ratings agencies to cast a wary eye over its ability to pay back its debts.
The ANC government has been dithering on a grand scale in relation to the system and how it will be funded. It has seemed hell-bent on hanging on to the discredited principle of “user pays” for toll roads, even though this applies in few other places where government delivers services. It has refused to contemplate a fuel levy – even though modest ones (and even regional ones) would have paid off the project cost by now.
There have been threats to withhold licences for cars if e-tolls are not paid – but the law of unintended consequences means this could bankrupt many municipalities which rely on licence fees for their revenue.
There is clearly no money in government coffers to fund the roads… even before Covid the cupboard was bare.
Now is the perfect time to rethink a small, and maybe even ring-fenced, fuel levy. It seems to be the only sensible option.
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