Transport committee warns on e-toll boycott calls

THE portfolio committee on transport said on Wednesday it was concerned that calls from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) for Gauteng road users not to register for e-tolls and to boycott paying toll fees were undermining acts of Parliament.

Committee chairwoman Ruth Bhengu said such calls were also in defiance of the constitution.

Outa, which has been fighting tolling in the courts for the past 18 months, has said it is not a legal requirement to register for e-tolls. Cosatu has repeatedly stated it remains opposed to tolling and has called for e-tag boycotts.

Both organisations are encouraging road users not to register for e-tags to make it more difficult for the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) to enforce payment of toll fees. Cosatu spokesman Patrick Craven said Ms Bhengu’s statement was a “scandalous allegation”, as there was no law that said people were obliged to buy or register for e-tags.

“There is no law that says you have to assist Sanral to make it easier for them to collect tolls. People are perfectly within their rights not to register. Sanral are trying to bully people into thinking they are breaking the law if they don’t register for an e-tag, and that is outrageous,” he said.

Sanral spokesman Vusi Mona said the agency had “never said people who don’t obtain e-tags will be breaking the law. All we have done is to encourage people to obtain e-tags because that is what will qualify them for discounts.

“If anyone says don’t obtain an e-tag and by so saying we have your interests at heart I will dispute that. If they are then saying on top of you not getting an e-tag … don’t pay your tolls that is a call for civil disobedience, the Sanral act is very clear if you don’t pay toll fees that is a criminal offence.”

Sanral’s carrot and stick programme for the toll programme is based on offering road users a 48% discount on toll fees if they register for an e-tag. If they fail to pay toll fees there is the threat that offenders will be prosecuted under the Criminal Procedure Act.

When the toll programme was conceived Sanral believed it would be able to rely on Aarto, a points demerit system for traffic offences, for the enforcement of toll payment.

However, Aarto is still only being run on a trial basis in two metros in Gauteng, namely Johannesburg and Tshwane, with modest success.

The national vehicle registration system, e-Natis, has corrupt data, said Freedom Front Plus spokesman Anton Alberts. He said as much as 70% of the information on the e-Natis system was incorrect and that this has rendered e-Natis an unreliable database for enforcement.

Outa said on Wednesday it had never encouraged people not to pay toll fees. “It is not a legal requirement to get an e-tag and the people must be made aware of this fact,” Outa chairman Wayne Duvenage said. “Outa have never supported the breaking of any law and we have never told people not to pay their e-toll bills.”

Ms Bhengu said infrastructure investment, especially for transport infrastructure, “is central in re-energising” the economy. “It is within this context that the two organisations must desist from encouraging citizens not to buy tags.”

Mr Duvenage said Outa had warned the government of the consequences of pushing ahead with the e-toll plan, which it described as illegal.