Gaut­eng toll plan un­wise

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - COMMENT -

THE ar­ti­cle about the new toll road sys­tem in Gaut­eng (Week­end Ar­gus, Jan­uary 9) refers.

When the Gaut­eng Free­way Im­prove­ment Project was first re­ported in the tech­ni­cal press the chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the South African Na­tional Roads Agency Lim­ited (San­ral), Nazir Alli, said “roads of this high stan­dard re­quire the ‘user pay’ prin­ci­ple to en­sure suf­fi­cient fund­ing”.

Be­cause the roads are in an ur­ban area, hi-tech open road tolling with so­phis­ti­cated man­age­ment sys­tems is be­ing used. Car own­ers will have to buy transpon­ders and new li­cence plates. With four mil­lion ve­hi­cles this im­plies a cost of over R1 bil­lion ex­clud­ing the time costs.

Toll roads have be­come a part of the road sce­nario but there is no pub­lished data of how ef­fec­tive road­tolling has been and whether it has been eco­nom­i­cally vi­able.

What for in­stance is the ba­sis of the agree­ments be­tween San­ral and the toll com­pa­nies and what is the divi­sion of risk? What is the cost of col­lect­ing the tolls and what are the in­ter­est rates that ap­ply in the loans that the con­ces­sion­aires have to raise for construction? How much of the to­tal cost of a new toll road is built into the toll and how much does San­ral con­trib­ute?

Are our traf­fic vol­umes out­side of the main ur­ban ar­eas high enough to sus­tain the cost of construction, main­te­nance and loan re­demp­tion? If an­other form of fund­ing is used can all th­ese in­ter­est charges, cost of col­lec­tion, and so on be avoided and the sav­ings added to the sums avail­able for construction and main­te­nance? It is im­pos­si­ble to get an­swers to th­ese ques­tions from San­ral.

A ques­tion is how will San­ral deal with the many ve­hi­cle own­ers, par­tic­u­larly in our poorer com­mu­ni­ties, who do not have bank ac­counts?

How will they pay, if at all, and how will San­ral chase up ac­counts in ar­rears? All th­ese el­e­ments have cost im­pli­ca­tions and will re­duce the amount of toll money that goes to­wards the road funds.

There is no doubt that the “user pays” prin­ci­ple is best achieved by adopt­ing a road tax on fuel cou­pled with a sen­si­ble an­nual li­cens­ing fee to ac­count for the dif­fer­ent ef­fects on road main­te­nance pro­duced by cars and heavy trucks.

Ex­pe­ri­enced road and traf­fic en­gi­neers have been call­ing for this sys­tem for many years. The cost of col­lec­tion is neg­li­gi­ble as the oil com­pa­nies al­ready col­lect the ex­cise tax on fuel so the ad­di­tional amount will not add to their costs.

Money for roads will be eas­ily ac­cu­mu­lated in a fund and may even at­tract some in­ter­est. All this re­quires is the po­lit­i­cal will and fore­sight.

The fuel tax will make our road fund money go much fur­ther. Why are we so si­lent about its ob­vi­ous ad­van­tages?

The sys­tem for Gaut­eng will turn into an ab­so­lute sham­bles for lack of the nec­es­sary skills and in­fra­struc­ture to man­age it, with se­ri­ous im­pli­ca­tions for the econ­omy which is re­liant on a good trans­port sys­tem.

PRAC­TI­CAL: The ‘user pays’ prin­ci­ple is best achieved by adopt­ing a road tax on fuel cou­pled with a sen­si­ble an­nual li­cens­ing fee, says the writer.

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