Toll road ‘night­mare’ loom­ing in Gaut­eng

New li­cence plates and e-tags will re­quire ma­jor bu­reau­cratic or­gan­i­sa­tion

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - THABISO THAKALI

GAUT­ENG’S fancy new free­way “open-road” toll sys­tem is go­ing to be a bu­reau­cratic night­mare.

The prov­ince’s more than 4 mil­lion reg­is­tered cars will each have to fit a new R250 set of “in­tel­li­gent” li­cence plates, and many reg­u­lar trav­ellers – up­wards of a mil­lion driv­ers – will also have to reg­is­ter their cars for pre­paid elec­tronic tags.

The regis­tra­tion for th­ese tags alone will mean the au­thor­i­ties would have to process more than 3 000 cars a day dur­ing the regis­tra­tion win­dow pe­riod which starts in Septem­ber this year and ends in March next year.

Cur­rently, the li­cens­ing and regis­tra­tion sys­tem strug­gles to deal with 2 000 cars a day across the prov­ince, and has been bur­dened by in­ef­fi­ciency, back­logs and cor­rup­tion.

Im­ple­men­ta­tion of the new toll sys­tem will re­quire a so­phis­ti­cated net­work of high­way scan­ners, com­put­ers and a huge data­base.

This while many road users still re­mem­ber the eNaTIS elec­tronic-li­cens­ing sys­tem shut­down and chaos of a few years ago.

And, con­vert­ing car li­cence plates to the new in­tel­li­gent ones would re­quire 7 000 cars to be pro­cessed ev­ery work­ing day be­tween now and that April 2012 dead­line. How­ever, the au­thor­i­ties have not yet given the go-ahead for that process to start.

Chaos, red tape and long queues could be­come the or­der of the day as mo­torists are ex­pected to wait till the last minute to get their ve­hi­cles ac­cred­ited as part of th­ese two sys­tems.

The au­to­mated toll sys­tem is due to come into op­er­a­tion in March next year. Regis­tra­tion will start in Septem­ber. Ve­hi­cles with elec­tronic tags will be scanned at 42 toll points across the prov­ince’s busiest high­ways. Own­ers will then ei­ther be sent a bill or will have their pre­paid ac­count deb­ited elec- tron­i­cally.

But Stu­art Far­row, the Demo­cratic Al­liance’s shadow min­is­ter of trans­port, says get­ting reg­u­lar road users reg­is­tered for the toll sys­tem, which will see the N1, N3, N12 and R21 tolled, could be a night­mare.

“Fill­ing in forms and giv­ing other de­tails, in­clud­ing bank ac­count in­for­ma­tion, will cre­ate even more de­lays,” he be­lieves. “This sys­tem is go­ing to be very dif­fi­cult to im­ple- ment. It’s go­ing be dogged by prob­lems, tech­ni­cal­i­ties and peo­ple who don’t know what’s go­ing on.”

Is­mail Essa, re­gional man­ager of the north­ern re­gion at the SA Na­tional Roads Agency Lim­ited (San­ral), says im­ple­men­ta­tion of the new toll sys­tem is set for March and April.

“The in­ten­tion of this sys­tem is to have an e-tag sys­tem linked to a bank ac­count, or a credit card, and/ or a pre­paid ac­count where money can be pre-loaded for pay­ing for the use of the roads,” he ex­plains.

“If you don’t have an e-tag in your car, then if you use the road we can trace you through the eNaTIS sys­tem and send you a bill.”

New leg­is­la­tion, says Essa, would crim­i­nalise the non-pay­ment of toll fees for mo­torists who haven’t reg­is­tered for the elec­tronic tags.

Road users will be hit hard. A daily com­mute be­tween Joburg and Pre­to­ria on the N1 will cost an ex­tra R1 000 a month.

Au­to­mo­bile As­so­ci­a­tion spokesman Gary Ron­ald pre­dicts that, rather than pay the hefty fees, many mo­torists will re­sort to back roads.

“They’ll find the short­est pos­si­ble route which can be used. From a safety per­spec­tive and a town man­age­ment per­spec­tive, this has mas­sive im­pli­ca­tions for the econ­omy.

“The gov­ern­ment is quick to say let’s have a toll fee on a par­tic­u­lar road, rather than looking at it as an ab­so­lute last re­sort. What hap­pens to the freight trans­port us­ing the high­ways in Gaut­eng de­liv­er­ing our bread and milk? All those ex­tra costs (of the toll fees) are go­ing to be passed on to the con­sumer.”

Rob Hand­field-Jones of www. driv­ing.co.za terms the toll sys­tem “day­light rob­bery”. “I re­ally think motoring or­gan­i­sa­tions need to look into how it can be stopped.”

Peggy Droskie, an ex­ec­u­tive ad­viser at the SA Cham­ber of Com­merce and In­dus­try, says while the toll sys­tem will im­prove ef­fi­ciency, it will have rip­ple ef­fects on cost.

“We be­lieve, as busi­ness, that there will be more pos­i­tives than neg­a­tives about this plan. How­ever, ob­vi­ously it will in­crease costs, which will in re­turn be passed on to the con­sumer,” she adds.

Cru­cial to the suc­cess of the toll sys­tem is the roll­out of the in­tel­li­gent num­ber plate sys­tem in the first half of this year. But to meet its three-year dead­line, the Gaut­eng Depart­ment of Trans­port’s ser­vice providers will need to process 7 000 plates a day for the prov­ince’s 4 mil­lion reg­is­tered ve­hi­cles.

It is hoped the sys­tem will halt ve­hi­cle cloning, and it will help the depart­ment to solve its prob­lem of run­ning out of li­cence num­ber com­bi­na­tions.

Ron­ald adds the depart­ment has left this plan to the eleventh hour. “We’re soon go­ing to see a lot of cars driv­ing with tem­po­rary per­mits, which are only valid for 21 days.

“Then the cars have to be reg­is­tered, but there won’t be num­bers to al­lo­cate a regis­tra­tion num­ber.

“The prov­ince ( Gaut­eng) won’t be able to ac­com­mo­date mo­torists, and ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Road Traf­fic Act, they’ll be act­ing il­le­gally.” – Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Sheree Bega

COSTLY: The planned Gaut­eng road tolls will be a blow to mo­torists who use high­ways.

PIC­TURE: CARA VIERECKL

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