WHY ROADS ARE TOLLED
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.