Sanral’s credit evasion tactic questioned
Gauteng’s controversial e-tolling project has evolved into somewhat of a saga, with ongoing revelations and twists that could be likened to a good mystery novel.
The latest development is that of the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) attempting to be granted exemption from the National Credit Act (NCA). The roads agency claims that the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project is a pre-paid tolling scheme where no debt is incurred.
However, the South African National Consumer Union (SANCU) disagrees. Its vice-chairman, Clif Johnston, explains: “The very architecture of the e-tolling freeway network proves it was designed from the ground up on the basis of ‘use now, pay later’.”
Johnston explains that by doing this Sanral creates consumer debt, which brings the scheme in line with the NCA. “The option to pay by e-tag doesn’t change the system’s underlying nature,” he adds. “The e-tolled freeways were designed without booms or gates, allowing any motorist free right of passage, whether their vehicle is fitted with an e-tag or not.” He says this shows that the system regards post-paid usage as the norm.
Johnston also points out that Sanral has previously explained this process to those without e-tags and published tariffs for non-tagged users. These were subsequently withdrawn, but Sanral said it would implement debt collection processes for motorists without e-tags who didn’t pay their tolls.
An example of a motorist whose vehicle is fitted with an e-tag, but who hasn’t loaded credit onto the tag was also raised. Johnston points out that Sanral can’t prevent an e-tag user with a zero balance from driving on an e-tolled Gauteng freeway and it would not be illegal for the motorist to do so.
“E-tolling is clearly a post-paid system and Sanral is now attempting – through the current amendment to the Transport and Related Matters bills – to legislate its way out of the maze resulting from its irrational and ill-conceived choice of e-tolling,” Johnston comments. “Sanral must not be allowed to trample on consumer rights by circumventing the NCA.”