How to have your cake AND eat it …

How to have your cake AND eat it …

The South African National Roads Agency (Sanral), through its e-tolls, thinks it will have it both ways.

I drove past the scene of a horrific crash site in Roodepoort recently – you may recall the crash involving a truck and 11 cars outside the Flora Clinic, in which five people died – and two things came to mind immediately. Firstly, why was the truck (an interlink coal carrier) on this particular route? And, secondly, if the Gauteng e-tolls are implemented, will this become the norm?

For folks that don’t know William Nicol Road, in Roodepoort, it is very steep. Most cars battle it out in second gear. Downhill, the brakes take a beating. There is every reason to avoid that particular road – and the alternatives to get to the motorway are much safer.

But here’s the problem – one in which, as a province, Gauteng is probably unique: phase one of the Gauteng e-tolls, once active, will affect most highway routes. The bad news – no, we haven’t got to that part yet – is that despite the MEC for Transport having said that phase two has been put on hold (circa 2011), the conversation has already turned to its implementation.

What this means is that every freeway (and a few other secondary routes) will attract an e-toll. It will be virtually impossible to avoid paying at least something to gain access to the province.

I really feel for industry. Not everyone will be able to afford the added running costs and, out of necessity, will look to alternative routes – like William Nicol Road. I expect there will be many more crashes with loss of life as a result. And yet, Sanral and the Department of Transport will continue to crow about their contribution to road safety.

I’m not convinced that the consequence of avoiding e-tolls is all that unintended. The e-toll idea is patently there to provide a safe road environment compared to the alternative. And that is just wrong.

Ask any businessman, and they will tell you that attracting folks into the store results in sales – simple. What Sanral has so brilliantly done is to antagonise its clients, driving them out of the shop while congratulating itself on providing congestion-free travel on the e-tolled roads. More cake for them.

But, when the local municipalities finally wake up, they are going to realise that every single alternative route is going to need serious maintenance. Some roads, like William Nicol Road in Roodepoort, will be closed to trucks and others will simply be too narrow for freight. So then, the ratepayer will be taxed more. Again more cake for them.

And for those of us that have been left without even a taste of a bit of icing, the temptation to ignore the e-tolls is growing daily. What if “they” were forced to fund the toll roads through the fuel levy?

Well then, we’ll have the cake and the icing. Make mine chocolate please.


SKID MARKS is a regular column in which Gary Ronald presents his personal and sometimes jaundiced view on transport, safety and mobility. Ronald has a wealth of experience in these fields and has presented numerous papers both locally and internationally. FOCUS appreciates his witty, topical and sometimes irreverent stance on the industry. If you’d like to respond to whatever punches he throws, visit

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FOCUS on Transport and Logistics is the oldest and most respected transport and logistics publication in southern Africa.
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