The South African National Roads Agency Limited’s (SANRAL) insistence at the weekend that the non-payment of e-tolls will result in motorists being unable to renew vehicle licence discs is outrageous, dishonest and irregular, says the Automobile Association (AA). Reports in Sunday’s City Press newspaper refer to a section on SANRAL’s website that reads:
“4. Outstanding toll fees to be settled before renewal of vehicle licence disc
The non-payment of toll may result in road users not being issued with their vehicle license disc, upon renewal of the vehicle license. Road users will be able to renew licences, but the disc itself will be withheld until the outstanding toll related infringements have been settled.”
This inclusion on SANRAL’s website is not new, but it remains up and is referenced by SANRAL as its position on non-payment of tolls despite the fact that government still has to pronounce on the future of e-tolls in Gauteng.
“This paragraph gives the impression that the issue of e-tolls is finalised when, in fact, it is still very much in the air. By suggesting through this wording on their website (and alluding to such in interviews) that this is a done deal, SANRAL is again demonstrating how desperate it is to coerce the public into paying for something they have taken a principled stand against paying,” says the AA.
The Association notes that the resurfacing of this issue again raises questions about how SANRAL interacts with the public, apparently preferring a heavy-handed approach to one genuinely interested in resolving the issue through the proper channels. In addition, any efforts at debt collection contradict SANRAL’s earlier position that it was suspending efforts to pursue outstanding debt until a resolution on the future of e-tolls is announced.
The Association says many organisations, including itself, consulted the Minister of Transport on the issue of e-tolls and the way forward. A resolution to the e-toll issue, specifically that relating to the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP), was to be given at the end of April last year. That was postponed with the end of March this year now being tabled as the date on which an announcement regarding the future of e-tolls will be made.
“We are gravely concerned that SANRAL perpetuates misinformation about tolls and discs while the Ministry is yet to pronounce on the matter. It seems to us that SANRAL is attempting to pre-empt any announcement by the Minister on his decision regarding the future of e-tolls, and impose its own regulations on the public, completely ignoring the other process. Maybe they know something the rest of the country doesn’t, but it is still incumbent upon them to abide by the timelines of government , not their own,” says the Association.
The AA says when it met the Minister of Transport in August 2019 it informed him of research it conducted among Gauteng motorists on the issue of e-tolls in the province which found that no amount of cajoling or threats of legal action would convince the more than 80% of non-payers to change their minds.
“The evidence is quite clear and irrefutable: motorists have taken a principled stand against e-tolls, and they simply won’t pay outstanding, current or future fees. They have wholly rejected e-tolls and will not participate in any collection scheme. Recent reports of corruption involving payments to the company which collected tolls – Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) – are, we are sure, further cementing that position,” says the AA.
The AA says it repeats its previous calls to SANRAL to adopt a more consultative, approachable stance towards motorists in Gauteng, rather than attempt to bully them into compliance.
It notes, “The lengths SANRAL are willing to go to are astonishing, and completely misread the mood in the provincial room. Letters of demand, ultimatums, pronouncements out of turn, and other legal threats such as listing at credit agencies are alienating the public; their actions are arrogant, misguided, and unfortunate, and will not solve any problems,” concludes the AA.