SAVRALA opposes proposed toll roads

By SAVRALA, the Southern African Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association

SAVRALA (Southern African Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association) members, representing about 450,000 vehicles met on Thursday October 06, 2011 at Isando, to discuss the industry’s concerns regarding the request from SANRAL (South African National Roads Authority Limited) to register and start distributing e-tags for the industry’s vehicles and customers this month.

This move is in advance of the GFIP (Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project) Open Road Toll billing plan, scheduled to take effect in February 2012.

While regularly engaging with SANRAL, to understand better how the eToll system is to be implemented, the members of SAVRALA unanimously agreed that while the GFIP improvements are welcome, the funding of road improvements should be obtained (excluding the option of direct transfers from the Government fiscus) via an allocation from the proceeds of an increase in the national fuel levy. This method of funding would save a minimum of almost R5b in toll maintenance and administrative costs over the next five years of the current ETC (Electronic Toll Collection) company toll concession.

SAVRALA is extremely concerned about several key issues which stand to have a material impact on both corporate fleet and private road users. Some of these are;

1. Current Terms and Conditions, to be signed by toll road users, does not make any provision for the redirection of fraudulent toll transactions caused by cloned plates conservatively estimated at a minimum of 15% of Gauteng vehicles. SAVRALA has recommended that, as a minimum, toll transactions (excluding daily passes) can only be billed by the confirmed presence of both a registered working e-tag matched with the correctly registered VLN (Vehicle Licence Number). The current toll billing process which provides for toll billing by either e-tag or VLN will lead to hundreds of thousands of payment disputes by both the public and corporate vehicle owners requiring significant management time and resources to both manage and process.

2. The enforcement of non-payment seems to be a big grey area at present and whilst the Minister of Transport speaks of enforcement through the SANRAL Act, others, more notably ETC’s chief executive Sal Yacoubi, in an interview with an American toll road website in August, speak of toll payment evasion being enforced through the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offenses (AARTO) and further claims that road users with unpaid toll fees ‘won’t be able to renew their driving and vehicle licenses’. Other commentators mention that unpaid toll fees will be prosecuted via the Criminal Procedures Act. SAVRALA awaits a soon to be published Government Gazette which should finally clarify how SANRAL plans to legally enforce evasion of toll fee payment. It is also hoped that the Gazette will highlight the conditions and criteria (in detail) for toll fee exemption which was recently granted to commuter taxis and buses which further undermined the ‘user pay’ or tolling principle presented by the Minister.

3. SANRAL continues to insist that SAVRALA members, termed Key Account Holders (KAH), must pay for the toll transactions of their vehicles within seven days, in stark contrast, to the normally accepted business practice of 30 days on statement.

Furthermore, SAVRALA welcomes the recent comments by the Deputy Transport Minister Jeremy Cronin who said that SANRAL should ‘holds its fire’ when it comes to tolling roads. The growing public opposition and concern over the current tolling model has been demonstrated recently by the very low purchase by the Bond market of SANRAL bonds (estimated at only 15% compared to previous oversubscriptions), the launch of anti-toll websites and the escalation of threats of legal action by the City of Cape Town against the implementation of tolls in the Western Cape.

SAVRALA, again emphasized that their members were willing to pay for the funding of road improvements via the fuel levy but not by the inefficient and expensive administration costs of a tolling system. While further discussions are expected to be held with SANRAL this month to discuss the many outstanding concerns and despite the increasing eToll signage on the highways, SAVRALA urges other business associations, corporate’s with fleet and private road users to delay tagging their vehicles until they better understand the various risks and conditions posed by the current toll model.

SAVRALA will again review their position on tagging their membership vehicles when they next meet to discuss the concerns at their AGM on October 28, 2011.

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SAVRALA opposes proposed toll roads