To toll or not to toll?

What are the benefits of paying to use a toll road, and are there any hidden costs when opting for a longer alternative route?

Ever since toll roads were first introduced in South Africa, long distance transport operators have debated the whys and wherefores of paying toll road fees or saving the money and using alternative routes.

Over the past few years, many scientific studies have been conducted to determine whether fees paid for the use of toll roads are a wise investment. One of these was undertaken by Hellberg Transport Management on the Johannesburg to Durban route between Heidelberg South and the route’s Cedara section. The study proved beyond all doubt that using a toll road as opposed to a longer alternative route results in a substantial financial saving. Depending on the type of vehicle concerned, this saving could be approximately 16%.

To arrive at a comprehensive understanding of the comparative costs involved, vehicle productivity must be taken into account. Also, a vehicle’s operating fixed and variable costs need to be calculated (see table).

Vehicle safety is another important factor, especially because so many  alternative roads are in extremely poor condition, with large potholes that cause tyre and mechanical damage. These routes can also be narrow, not having been designed to accommodate the larger vehicle combinations that operate on our roads today. This can place a vehicle at considerable risk.

Using the toll road between Johannesburg and Durban has many benefits.  The road is continually monitored by N3 Toll Concession (N3TC) management and staff, and their patrol vehicles are available to assist any driver experiencing difficulties along the route.

During a recent trip travelling south on the N3 toll road, I witnessed an incident where the driver of a large truck tractor and set of inter-link trailers travelling north was unaware that one of the rear wheels on his trailer was smoking badly. The problem was spotted by an N3TC vehicle, whose driver immediately alerted the team of patrol cars to stop the truck tractor and assist the driver before the wheel seized or caught fire.

N3TC’s management team is continually striving to add value to the services available to any driver or vehicle using the route. A good example of this is the Driver Wellness Days programme, which offers truck drivers free health checks conducted by professional and qualified staff. I recently had the pleasure of attending a Driver Wellness Day at Harrismith, and was amazed by how many truck drivers supported the event. Even though the health check was, in fact, voluntary most truck drivers participated and were keen to learn their health status.

Checks included blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, an eye sight test, body mass index and waist circumference. HIV testing was also offered to any driver who wanted it. Again, it was encouraging to see how many did. It was also rewarding to see the relief on the faces of drivers who undertook the test and found the results to be negative.

Toll roads are definitely the way to go; of that I am absolutely certain.

* Vehicle operating cost estimates are available from Hellberg Transport Management Call 0027 (0)31 714 2100


One of this country’s most respected commercial vehicle industry authorities, VIC OLIVER has been in this industry for 45 years. Before joining the FOCUS team, he spent 15 years with Nissan Diesel, 11 years with Busaf and seven years with International.

Published by

Power plays
Prev Power plays
Next Cry the beloved country

Leave a comment