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
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.
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.