Toll tariffs: a potentially explosive issue

Toll tariffs: a potentially explosive issue

Transport, after housing (including water and electricity), is the biggest expense on the South African household expenditure list. With fuel prices rising, plus the addition of exorbitant toll fees, the cost of travelling to work, school, or a holiday destination, this could develop into an explosive situation, writes UDO RYPSTRA.

On 7 March 1971, a prayer meeting regarding a proposed increase in bus tariffs attended by 10 000 people on a sports field in Gelvandale, Port Elizabeth, turned into a series of riots which lasted for three weeks. All it took to turn the crowd, already frustrated by an oppressive regime, into an angry mob was a policeman attempting to arrest a drunk. Many people were injured In the stone-throwing and shooting that ensued, including a pregnant woman who was shot in the stomach and a man on crutches, who was nearly trampled to death in the stampede.

I was the only white person present, and protected from the angry crowd by a Catholic priest, the much revered Father Salsoni, I survived to report the front page account in The Herald the next day. I am therefore able to vouch that public transport can become an explosive issue if not properly handled.

With a new government in place and municipal elections scheduled for May, more jobs have been promised, as well as service delivery. It seems that this current government has finally realised that it has to find an alternative method to pay for the R20 billion Gauteng freeway project instead of charging business, the work force and the public the exorbitant toll fees it had proposed.

Fact is that proposed toll fees on top of rising fuel prices have once again provoked a potentially explosive situation – the cost of (public) transport, which has ranked as the second biggest expense in South African households for years. The rich will be the only ones able to bear these toll fees, those who can afford to travel between Pretoria and Johannesburg on the Ben Schoeman highway during peak hour in their luxury cars. But how are the poorer people in our communities, going to manage these additional costs? Those who have to travel to their workplaces by taxi or in barely roadworthy cars?

The question being asked by many is: have government officials, travelling in their fancy cars, lost touch with the transport needs of the general population? Why impose heavy toll fees when the Gautrain is not running yet? Why leave it up to the Department of Transport’s company, the South African National Roads Agency Ltd to “decree” the tariffs without input from the bus, taxi and trucking industries?

In order to find a solution, there is an urgent need for accurate statistics on the latest travel modes which are being made use of by the ordinary people. Those quoted in most government speeches are unreliable as they date back to 2005/2006 when BRT bus services did not exist.

Every five years, Statistics South Africa conducts a Household Income and Expenditure Survey (IES) to determine the spending patterns of people living in South Africa. A total of 33 000 families are currently being visited for the 2010/12 survey with
12 430 families which have been visited  up until last month. On completion in September, the results will first have to be analysed prior to publication next year.

The data is used to update the Consumer Price Index (CPI) basket of goods and services and there is a survey underway now. The results of the last survey for 2005/6 are still quoted (and misquoted) in government speeches when required to prove any kind of service delivery, and are also quoted (and misquoted) by unions and other organisations when they wish to prove non-delivery. These statistics are outdated, but provide a guide to decision-making on issues such as tolling roads.

The last statistics revealed that housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels were the largest household consumption expenditure in South Africa. This group contributed 23,6% to the total household consumption expenditure. On average, each South African household was estimated to have spent approximately R13 245 on housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels during the survey year.

The second largest contributor to consumption expenditure was transport. It was estimated that transport contributed 19,9% to the total household consumption expenditure during the survey year. This meant that approximately one in every five rand spent by South African households on consumption expenditure was on transport. On average, a typical household spent approximately R11 180 on transport during the survey year.

Given that there has been a sharp rise in average household incomes and steep increases in housing and transport over the last five years, these figures are obviously hopelessly out of date. The survey also found that taxis were the most commonly used form of public/subsidised transport in South Africa, as 42,0% of households had at least one household member who used a minibus/sedan taxi or bakkie taxi during the week preceding the survey. Provinces with the highest levels of use of minibus taxis were Mpumalanga (50,9%), Gauteng (49,0%), KwaZulu-Natal (46,6%) and North West (44,7%).

Nearly three-quarters (73,6%) of the individuals attending an educational institution walked to get there. A further 8% travelled by private car and 8% used taxis.

The most commonly used mode of transport to go to work was a private car (33,1%), followed by taxis (22,6%) and walking (19,9%). Nearly 12% (ie 11,6%) of the working population worked from home and therefore needed no transport.

Often forgotten (or misquoted) are the statistics showing that whereas the national average is 19,9%, the poor (20% of households surveyed) spent only just over 10% of total income on (basic) transport while the rich (also 20% of those surveyed) showed a expenditure of 28% on (advanced, luxury) transport.

With car sales increasing all the time, and public transport services being upgraded constantly, figures for 2010/11 will undoubtedly show a shift in the use of travelling modes, which has to be considered when deciding the road tolling issue. Like the PE bus tariff increases, the proposed toll fees were gazetted well in advance of implementation. But who reads the Government Gazette? It needs more public debate.

The fact is that, according to Sanral, the proposed toll and tariff system will be expanded to all of South Africa’s toll roads after completion of the Gauteng system. Toll roads, and roads to be tolled, are used by all road transport modes. The fees to be charged are therefore of national concern. It’s a municipal election issue, and one which could swing party support on a national basis as it affects us all.

Cosatu, the voice of all worker unions, has threatened nation-wide strikes if excessive toll fees are introduced, and we could see the mother of all violent strikes if government does not heed this warning.

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Focus on Transport

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