South Africa 3.9.2014 01:00 pm

8 things needed to make e-tolls work – Outa

FILE PICTURE: The toll gantry near the Van Buuren offramp of the N12  in Bedfordview, 31 July 2013. Picture: Neil McCartney

FILE PICTURE: The toll gantry near the Van Buuren offramp of the N12 in Bedfordview, 31 July 2013. Picture: Neil McCartney

The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) has identified eight critical factors that would have to come into play for the controversial e-toll system to work in a South African society.

Earlier this week, Outa handed its paper “Beyond the Impasse” to a panel tasked by Gauteng Premier David Makhura to look at the socio-economic impact of e-tolls.

It highlighted eight critical factors for an Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) to work, as identified by the Information Sciences Department at the University of Pretoria.

Anti E-Toll activists, who prefer not to be named, hang signs above the R24 highway in Kempton Park, Johannesburg, 01 July 2014, in protest over the controversial tolling system. Gauteng Premier David Makhura announced during the State of the Provence Address that he would be setting up a panel to review the tolling system. Picture: Alaister Russell

Anti E-Toll activists, who prefer not to be named, hang signs above the R24 highway in Kempton Park, Johannesburg, 01 July 2014, in protest over the controversial tolling system. Gauteng Premier David Makhura announced during the State of the Provence Address that he would be setting up a panel to review the tolling system. Picture: Alaister Russell

1) Public Support

Most crucial for an ITS to work, is the need for strong public support.

“Public support needs to be extremely high with strong advocates promoting acceptance. Outa’s findings are that public support for GORT (Gauteng Open Road Tolling is extremely low, at around 40% of freeway users being tagged, or paying for use of the freeways, some eight months since implementation,” according to the report.

Market research company Ipsos, had previously conducted research in this regard.

It found that that 38% of the public displayed a “low support” for e-tags and 58% wanted the roads funded by alternate means.

“This we attribute to a dismal and meaningless public engagement program conducted in 2007/8, along with Sanral’s (the SA National Roads Agency Ltd) lack of transparency, numerous confusing claims on e-tag sales and embarrassing PR blunders, all of which have compounded the lack of trust by the public.

FILE PICTURE: E-toll objectors gather before taking part in a mass protest drive along the tolled highways. Picture: Michel Bega

FILE PICTURE: E-toll objectors gather before taking part in a mass protest drive along the tolled highways. Picture: Michel Bega

2) Weak Oppositional Forces

On oppositional forces, Outa admits that when the decision to go ahead with e-tolls was taken in 2008 the opposition was indeed weak.

“A mere 28 comments were apparently recorded when the decision was gazetted.”

It attributed this to Sanral avoiding “any substantial debate” by only placing the regulatory notices only once in six newspapers and its in the business section.

“From 2010 when the gantries started to appear, questions that ought to have been asked and  answered three years previously, began to surface and opposition mobilised.”

Other organisations opposed to the e-tolls system include trade union federation Cosatu, the SA Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Business Unity SA, the Black Management Forum, Black Business Council and the SA Local Government Association.

Makhura himself  was on record voicing his strong criticism of the system.

“Even strong opposition within the governing party was evident. The ANC Youth League denounced e-tolling in 2011 and again in 2012.”

FILE PICTURE: Cosatu members marched in protest against amonst other things e-tolls from Cosatu house in Braamfontein to various key points in the city, 14 November 2013. Picture: Neil McCartney

FILE PICTURE: Cosatu members marched in protest against amonst other things e-tolls from Cosatu house in Braamfontein to various key points in the city, 14 November 2013. Picture: Neil McCartney

3) Tangible Comfort Factors

Tangible comfort factors must be immediately felt to create confidence in e-tolls.

“Users who pay for a decongested traffic experience need to experience
satisfaction. If they don’t, their complaint may or may not be heard by Call Centre staff, but it will nevertheless travel by word-of-mouth,” according to the paper.

FILE PICTURE: An e-toll gantry is seen along the N1 South highway, 9 October 2013.  Picture: Tracy Lee Stark

FILE PICTURE: An e-toll gantry is seen along the N1 South highway, 9 October 2013. Picture: Tracy Lee Stark

4) Alternative Public Transport

Alternative public transportation systems should be adequate and
reliable, which both Outa and Cosatu have stated is not the case in
Gauteng.

Instead of an ITS, the State should have rather borrowed money to upgrade urban public transport, it has both said.

FILE PICTURE: A Rea Vaya bus passes its terminal. Picture: Alaister Russell.

FILE PICTURE: A Rea Vaya bus passes its terminal. Picture: Alaister Russell.

5) Simple billing system

The pricing systems should be simple and the billing system user friendly, which is not the case, and as evident by
numerous blunders by Sanral, which previously admitted to technical gliches in the e-tolls system.

The fact that the GORT system failed on Sanral’s billing system is “self-evident”, Outa said.

Accordign to Outa this is evident by the scolding Sanral has received from both President Jacob Zuma and Transport Minister Dipuo Peters more than once on the billing error ‘fiasco’.

They had both responded to public outrage.

“The pricing system is so complicated especially for ‘alternative users’
that it has led to the suspicions that this was a deliberate ply to manipulate
users to sign Sanral’s Terms and  Conditions and buy an e-tag.”

 

E-toll objectors burn their e-toll bill notifications, 25 January 2014, at the Portuguese Hall in Joburg South, before taking part in a mass protest drive along the tolled highways. Picture: Michel Bega

E-toll objectors burn their e-toll bill notifications, 25 January 2014, at the Portuguese Hall in Joburg South, before taking part in a mass protest drive along the tolled highways. Picture: Michel Bega

6) Reliable Technology

The soundness of the technology and data needs to be extremely reliable, but Sanral CEO Nazir Alli has admitted that “the database has ‘let us down’,” the paper reminds the e-tolls panel.

“This contradicts his repeated assurances over the past three years that
the system was technologically sound and ready for business.”

FILE PICTURE: Sanral employees man their stations in the control room of the Central Operations Centre in Midrand, 24 November 2013. Picture: Refilwe Modise

FILE PICTURE: Sanral employees man their stations in the control room of the Central Operations Centre in Midrand, 24 November 2013. Picture: Refilwe Modise

7) Environmental Benefits

“A major justification for the cost of ITS’s lies in the promise of not only
reduced traffic congestion (because people move to public transport
options) but the consequent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions
to combat global warming.”

Outa points also to complaints from users regarding the waste of paper
and colour printing on Sanral’s invoices and statements.

“Many people even received invoices which displayed an amount owing as ‘R0.00’.”

Traffic police conduct a road block, 4 June 2014, at the Rivonia Road onramp to the e-tolled N1 south. Sanral branded vehicles featuring the e-toll logo are seen parked alongside the road block. Picture: Michel Bega

Traffic police conduct a road block, 4 June 2014, at the Rivonia Road onramp to the e-tolled N1 south. Sanral branded vehicles featuring the e-toll logo are seen parked alongside the road block. Picture: Michel Bega

8) Strong, Credible Agency 

“At the outset of the GFIP upgrade, Sanral was indeed regarded as a strong and credible agency and this is probably the only
factor they had in their favour.

Today, their strength, both in public perception and that of ratings agencies is questionable.

“Judging by the number of court cases that Sanral has had to face, initiated by members of the public, civil society and city management entities especially during the past few years, indicates a level of frustration being expressed by a cross
section of society against this state owned entity.”

Sanral will not make representations to the advisory panel on e-tolls.

 

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