WHY ROADS ARE TOLLED

Public Sector Manager - - Front Page -

The con­cept of charg­ing a fee to trav­ellers for per­mis­sion to use a road is an age-old prac­tice that dates back to an­cient times.

Granted, the en­vi­ron­ment has changed sig­nif­i­cantly since then. Nowa­days, roads are be­ing man­aged by gov­ern­ments and roads au­thor­i­ties. But the ba­sis upon which mod­ern tolls were in­tro­duced re­mains rel­e­vant to this day. The South African Na­tional Roads Agency SOC Ltd (SANRAL) man­ages 2 952km of toll roads.

It has no au­thor­ity to de­clare toll roads, this is done by na­tional gov­ern­ment, but it im­ple­ments such on be­half the Depart­ment of Trans­port.

Tolls col­lected on a par­tic­u­lar stretch of road are ex­clu­sively used to fi­nance the build­ing, up­grad­ing, op­er­a­tion and gen­eral main­te­nance of that spe­cific route. Mo­torists need not wait un­til Trea­sury finds the money to im­prove roads, but up­grades are fi­nanced upfront with tolls be­ing used, amongst others, to re­pay the loan amount.

In South Africa, toll plazas with a boom were in­tro­duced in the mid 80s, start­ing out in Tsit­sikamma along the N2 coastal belt be­tween the East­ern and Western Cape prov­inces. In the 90s tolls were in­tro­duced re­gion­ally, in Chap­mans Peak in Cape Town and the Huguenot Tun­nel on the N1 north of the Mother City.

The col­lec­tion of tolls on these roads has al­lowed for a con­tin­u­ous rev­enue stream. This means there will al­ways be a steady source of in­come avail­able to meet fi­nanc­ing costs and to main­tain these roads.

Take a mo­ment to con­sider the na­tional road net­work as the con­duit that con­nects peo­ple, prod­ucts and ser­vices; then jux­ta­pose this with the hu­man and ve­hi­cle pop­u­la­tion growth in SA’s ma­jor cities. Then ask your­self does our na­tional road net­work have suf­fi­cient ca­pac­ity to match the de­mand now? And what will the sit­u­a­tion look like in 5 to 10 years?

The de­mand on SA’s road in­fra­struc­ture has un­de­ni­ably in­creased. In Gaut­eng, the pro­vin­cial pop­u­la­tion was about 12 mil­lion in 2011 and this is ex­pected to in­crease to 15 to 18 mil­lion by 2030. When the GFIP or e-toll net­work was rolled out in 2010, about 3.4 mil­lion ve­hi­cles made use of the net­work and this is pro­jected to in­crease five-fold to 16 mil­lion ve­hi­cles by 2030.

SANRAL is very care­ful when rec­om­mend­ing which routes could be tolled. These are key eco­nomic routes that re­quire on­go­ing up­grades to keep pace with or to drive the econ­omy. With tolling, there is no need to wait un­til ap­pro­pri­ate funds are avail­able from the fis­cus.

Tolling is a sus­tain­able fi­nanc­ing mech­a­nism to pay for road main­te­nance and up­grades when these are re­quired. Tolling is also eq­ui­table in that it is a di­rect user charge: those that do not make use of the road do not pay for the devel­op­ment and on­go­ing main­te­nance of the in­fra­struc­ture.

Ar­gu­ments that aim to dis­credit the le­gal­ity of tolling, be it tra­di­tional toll plazas or e-tolls, do not of­fer any so­lu­tion as to who then should pay for ma­jor eco­nomic routes if not by the road users who ben­e­fit from these roads?

Fact is only 13% of SANRAL’s na­tional road net­work is tolled. With the ex­cep­tion of grant fund­ing from the Depart­ment of Trans­port to com­pen­sate for the re­duc­tion in the stan­dard e-toll tar­iff and the halv­ing of the monthly e-toll caps toll roads are fi­nanced through pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ships or bor­row­ings – and which must be paid back us­ing tolls col­lected.

We also can­not deny the com­pet­ing so­cio-eco­nomic needs such as ed­u­ca­tion, health, ru­ral devel­op­ment and crime preven­tion that de­pend on al­lo­ca­tions from the Na­tional Trea­sury.

With the mod­est al­lo­ca­tion SANRAL re­ceives from the fis­cus, the agency di­rects this for the up­keep of 22197km of the na­tional non-toll road net­work.

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