Sanral’s lat­est e- toll at­tack

It is now up to MPs to choose sides with SA’s sneaky road agency, or Gaut­eng non- toll rebels

The Witness - Wheels - - FRONT PAGE - AL­WYN VILJOEN

YOU prob­a­bly missed the Gazette that pro­posed sev­eral changes Sanral wants to make to SA’s de­merit li­cens­ing sys­tem that is sup­posed to start in April.

You would have missed it be­cause Trans­port’s as­sis­tant di­rec­tor of Leg­is­la­tion, Sello Mokubyane, pub­lished the amend­ments to the Ad­min­is­tra­tive Ad­ju­di­ca­tion of Road Traf­fic Of­fences Act ( Aarto) in Gazette # 39482, just as most South Africans went on the an­nual De­cem­ber hol­i­days.

Mokubyane then gave the pub­lic only un­til Jan­uary 6 to com­ment on his depart­ment’s pro­posal that the Aarto Act’s sec­tion 29 be amended so that fail­ure “to com­ply with the di­rec­tions con­veyed by a road traf­fic sign by us­ing a toll road with­out pay­ing the toll charge” should hence­forth cost the owner of a ve­hi­cle up to R500, but not — note — any de­merit points.

Mokubyane also wants to amend Sched­ule 1 by adding form Aarto 03e, which al­lows mul­ti­ple elec­tron­i­cally cap­tured in­fringe­ments to be sent to the owner of a ve­hi­cle, but with space for only one photo.

We con­tacted Mokubyane by e- mail to query the num­ber of re­sponses the pub­lic has sent to his pro­posed amend­ments to the Aarto Act, but he did not pro­vide an an­swer by the time of go­ing to print.

The SA Au­to­mo­bile As­so­ci­a­tion said in a state­ment the tim­ing of the Gazetted amend­ments was done de­lib­er­ately to re­duce pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion.

“With Sanral as em­bat­tled as it is in the pub­lic space, we would have thought the roads agency and the Depart­ment of Trans­port would do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to make this process in­clu­sive to pre­vent fur­ther dam­age to its rep­u­ta­tion,” said the AA’s PR man­ager Lay­ton Beard.

“By its own ad­mis­sion, Sanral ac­knowl­edges only 10% of ac­count hold­ers are pay­ing their e- toll ac­counts. This means that 90% are not, show­ing the lack of com­pli­ance to the sys­tem. We would sug­gest that Sanral rather start is­su­ing in­voices and state­ments to their ex­ist­ing cus­tomer base and fol­low stan­dard debt col­lec­tion pro­cesses and pro­ce­dures to col­lect out­stand­ing amounts, rather than ef­fect­ing new leg­is­la­tion to cover for their own sys­tem in­ef­fi­cien­cies,” Beard added.

Im­pact on fleet oper­a­tors

If our par­lia­men­tar­i­ans ig­nore such ad­vice and in­stead grant Sanral’s wishes, KZN’s many fleet oper­a­tors can ex­pect to see their pur­ported e- toll in­fringe­ments on a sin­gle form, Aarto form 03e, and this bulk in­fringe­ments no­tice can be sent up to 90 days af­ter the date of the ear­li­est in­fringe­ment listed on the form.

The in­dus­try’s re­ac­tion to the Aarto’s form 03e, which al­lows space for only one photo of the ve­hi­cle, can­not, un­for­tu­nately, be printed in this fam­ily news­pa­per, but can be sum­marised as Trans­port be­ing wil­fully ig­no­rant of traf­fic re­al­i­ties in South Africa, and es­pe­cially Gaut­eng, where at least two in 10 ve­hi­cles drive around with a reg­is­tra­tion plate il­le­gally cloned from an­other ve­hi­cle.

Fleet oper­a­tors say by ig­nor­ing the fact of cloned plates, Trans­port now puts the onus on them to prove their ve­hi­cle could not have passed un­der the e- toll gantry on the spec­i­fied date and time.

Where the ve­hi­cle with the cloned plate shares a route with the le­git­i­mate plate, this can be­come im­pos­si­ble to prove. The only way past such an im­passe will be for Sanral, the or­gan­i­sa­tion driv­ing the amend­ment, to give fleet oper­a­tors the ben­e­fit of doubt, some­thing Sanral has con­sis­tently failed to do to date.

One well- known owner driver and small fleet op­er­a­tor in north­ern KwaZulu-Na­tal says not adding a pho­to­graph of each new al­leged in­fringe­ment ef­fec­tively re­moves the state’s obli­ga­tion to prove guilt. “This is against ev­ery­thing we fought for in the strug­gle,” said the fleet op­er­a­tor, who does not want to be named for fear of be­ing tar­geted by Sanral’s lit­i­ga­tors. “We may as well go back to the apartheid days where any sus­pect could be locked up with no bur­den of proof.”

An­other anony­mous fleet ad­min­is­tra­tor, who had been dili­gently pay­ing e- tolls up to the first time she had to con­test wrong billing and fines from var­i­ous cloned plates with no re­sponse from Sanral, said: “They al­ready to­tally fail to com­mu­ni­cate with us on any dis­putes when we do have proof of our [ fleets’] in­no­cence on a charge. This new idea will make it very dif­fi­cult to prove it is not one of our ve­hi­cles [ in a cited in­fringe­ment].”

Siphiwe Makhathini, a na­tional cham­pion truck driver who is now re­tired, said he knows of sev­eral fleet oper­a­tors who get fines from cloned plates.

Makhathini sug­gests Sanral would do bet­ter to pro­vide Metro of­fi­cers all over Gaut­eng with a list of cloned reg­is­tra­tion plates to look for and take th­ese off the roads, “in­stead of con­tin­u­ing to flog the dead horse of e- tolls”.

Madoda Plaatjie, a Hazchem driver trainer in Dur­ban, is wor­ried how com­bin­ing e- tolls with Aarto will af­fect the much- needed de­merit sys­tem in the long run.

“The Aarto sys­tem is some­thing we des­per­ately need to take off our roads all those driv­ers who pass on blind hills if we are to bring down the an­nual deaths toll [ from road ac­ci­dents]. But try­ing now to solve the e- toll re­volt by mar­ry­ing it to the de­merit sys­tem is mad­ness and will just en­sure our traf­fic re­mains among the most un­safe in the world,” said Plaatjie.

Fleet oper­a­tors, who al­ready find the e- toll dis­count sys­tem very cum­ber­some to ad­min­is­ter and any dis­putes im­pos­si­ble to ad­dress, warns par­lia­men­tar­i­ans the pro­posed amend­ment will as­so­ciate the re­volt against e- tolls with the new Aarto sys­tem, which will im­pact on the much- de­layed roll- out of the de­merit sys­tem as well as driv­ers’ will­ing­ness to ac­cept the de­merit sys­tem.

As things stand, fleet ad­min­is­tra­tors pre­dict bulk in­fringe­ments will make the en­tire in­fringe­ment no­ti­fi­ca­tion process all but im­pos­si­ble to de­fend or pros­e­cute in court.

All this is aca­demic, how­ever, if Par­lia­ment also votes through a third change to the Aarto Act, which is to al­low send­ing the bulk no­ti­fi­ca­tions of non- pay­ment of e- tolls by non- reg­is­tered mail, e- mail or SMS within 90 days by reg­is­tered mail.

Th­ese changes were al­ready gazetted in 2013 and mooted again in De­cem­ber’s Gazette 39482. If the MPs ac­cept this amend­ment, it will leave the pros­e­cu­tors with no proof that the no­tice was legally de­liv­ered; and the lawyers of fleet oper­a­tors with a ready de­fence to sink the e- toll ship even deeper in the sea of re­volt it cur­rently faces.

PHOTO: GAZETTE

The pro­posed Aarto 03e form that will list mul­ti­ple fail­ures to pay e- tolls but show only one photo of the ve­hi­cle in­volved in the in­fringe­ments. Fleet oper­a­tors say this ig­nores the many cloned reg­is­tra­tion plates on SA’s roads, with an es­ti­mated 10% to 20% of the ve­hi­cles on Gaut­eng’s roads us­ing false plates.

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