Potential Repurposing Of E-Tolls Could Mean Significant Job Losses

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A major change is expected for e-tolls as Government deals with the massive amount of outstanding debt the South African National Roads Agency (SANRAL) finds itself in. But what does this all mean for South Africans and the roads of Gauteng? 


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A major change is underway for the notorious money-collecting road infrastructure known as e-toll, leaving the possibility of significant job losses and unemployment on the table. 

The fearful reaction to the news comes after Finance Minister, Enoch Godongwana, announced that government will take on part of the R22.4 billion debt owed by SANRAL, which has grown over e-toll's 8 year run. 

Despite the public's disdain towards the road infrastructure, e-toll provided some South Africans with steady employment and income. The scraping of the system brings about a fear of joblessness, especially in South Africa's high and stressful climate of unemployment. 

General Secretary of the Democratised Transport Logistics and Allied Workers' Union (DEWATU), Visu Ntshangase, has called upon government to find a sustainable funding model, that "will not tamper with jobs" among SANRAL employees and other subsidiary companies.

While the scraping of e-tolls is welcomed, both the National and Gauteng Provincial Governments should be warned "that whatever policy shift is introduced, in as far as the funding where SANRAL is concerned, should not lead to job losses, because it is not the fault of all the workers that work for SANRAL [or] those that work for subsidiary companies that are contracted with SANRAL," said Ntshangase. 

In 2013, E-tolls were implemented on selected toll roads or toll lanes, mainly in the Gauteng province. 

E-tolls consist of electronic toll collection processes (money collected electronically from motorists) employed by the South African National Road Agency (SANRAL), and are primarily used to fund road infrastructure and maintenance. 

The money-collecting infrastructure has been disliked for quite some time now, but according to Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi, e-tolls "are gone". 

The debt has accumulated through SANRAL's expansion and maintenance of Gauteng's roads, as well as e-toll fees that motorists have refused to pay. 

SANRAL's latest results show that compliance with e-tolls reached 17.65% and the scheme has accumulated R9.7-billion in uncollectable debt from motorists who have refused to pay their e-toll bills since 2013. 

According to the Roads Agency, 85% of Gauteng’s roads are beyond their design life cycle and need significant maintenance investments; investments that cannot be afforded by SANRAL at present.

To solve some of this problem, Godongwana has greenlighted the allocation of an initial R23.7 billion taxpayer-funded bailout to clear SANRAL's debt and interest costs, in a 70/30 split between the Gauteng Provincial Government and the National Government.

The Gauteng government has agreed to be responsible for the 30% of SANRAL's debt, as well as the maintenance and regular inspection of freeways, bridges and slopes in the province, which is an exercise that costs roughly R3 billion every year.

This arrangement will pave the way for the National Government to wash its hands of the e-toll saga and for the Gauteng government to be solely responsible for the upkeep of the province's 201 kilometres of e-tolled freeways in the future. 

However, it is not yet clear whether the Gauteng government has the financial capacity to pay its 30% share of SANRAL's debt as well as the annual R3 billion maintenance bill.

Where the money will be sourced from, in the light of the province’s deteriorating economy, and where motorists will fall in this funding matrix remains a mystery.

Road user charges (through e-tolls) are still the most effective and equitable way to finance road infrastructure, said Godongwana.

Without e-tolls, other long-term methods of securing funding will have to be found and implemented to keep SANRAL and South Africa's road infrastructure afloat. 

 

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