The controversy around e-tolls in Gauteng has diverted public attention away from the real issues of road funding and created a culture of non-compliance amongst drivers which in turn impacts directly on road safety.
Saied Solomons, President of the South African Road Federation (SARF), says, “Roads are public infrastructure, they are vital to the economy and have a direct impact on prosperity. Governments across the world obtain funds for roads through general taxation, road user levies and charges, including the fuel levy, and other taxes. South Africa is no exception. But we have missed an opportunity to build understanding about the role every stakeholder must play to ensure an efficient and sustainable income source for our roads.”
“As 2018 draws to a close, instead of a better-informed group of road users in Gauteng, we have motorists who have not only not paid their toll fees, but have also not paid their traffic fines. Most road accidents are preceded by a traffic offense so we have non-compliant road-users whose behaviours and attitudes are questionable and may go on to threaten road safety over the holiday season.”
Solomons was speaking at the Transport Forum held in Pretoria last week when transport stakeholders from business, government and academia gathered together to discuss South Africa’s road funding dilemma.
“E-tolls are just one means of collecting income from road users. The fuel levy is another. Those who are up in arms about e-tolls should rather consider lobbying for an alternative to the fuel levy. If any road tax is not fair or equitable it is the fuel levy. The poor pay the same rate of tax as the rich and those who can afford newer more fuel-efficient vehicles are paying less than poorer people driving older cars for the same distance travelled.
“The fuel levy is also not transparent – the rate per litre can be established but calculating trip cost is not easy. It cannot be used as a tool to manage congestion during peak periods and it does not consider road damage caused by the mass of the vehicle. With the expected increase in electric vehicles in the future, the fuel levy is also not sustainable.”
“Many people are paying more road use tax with the fuel levy than what their comparative fair share of road use demands. They are also paying in personal time due to congestion and increased vehicle operating costs.”
“Compared to international standards, the demands on our roads are too high versus the available funding for maintenance and expansion of the network,” he says.
“Around two-thirds of South Africa’s population now live in urban areas with the Gauteng population rapidly soaring beyond the 14 million mark according to Stats SA. The number of vehicles that people own has doubled since 1994 and nearly 40% of these vehicle owners live in Gauteng. Yet many people remain unaware of just how heavily they are paying through congestion on our roads,” says Solomons.
Solomons explains that South Africa needs a completely new approach to road funding based on paying per the mass of the vehicle and distance travelled.
“This should involve a tariff setting mechanism that influences behaviour and that helps manage road capacity. Public sentiment will be far easier to manage if we have a road use charging system that is cost-effective, efficient, sustainable, equitable, transparent and well administered. After all, the user-pay principle is already part of our everyday lives – we pay for lights, water, parking, etc.”
“Charging for road use needs to be very clear so that all sectors of society including ordinary South Africans know that government’s investment and road infrastructure spending is in their interests.”
“In the next year the South African Road Federation will actively engage with relevant stakeholders to unpack the critical issues and benefits of a user-pay principle and what this will mean for all players.
“By participating in future Transport Forums we want to stimulate a more objective public debate on road funding and set out the roles and responsibilities required to build, maintain and develop a road network that is safe, efficient and cost-effective for all users.”