What about an equal playing field?

What about an equal playing field?

The reintroduction of a road freight transport permit system is on the cards. What are the consequences?

Rumours are flying around the road-transport industry that the South African government is thinking of possibly reintroducing a road-freight transport permit system in order to get more freight back onto rail, to boost rail freight volumes that have recently drastically declined, due to the slow economy and the cut back on exports of commodities such as iron ore, chrome and coal.

Details of a new rumoured permit system appear to be very vague at the moment, but the seed has been planted.

If a permit system similar to the previous systems is introduced, road-transport hauliers would have to submit an application to the authorities in order to move goods by road. The authorities would then decide whether or not to issue a permit, depending on rail capacity at that time and the type of load.

The reintroduction of a road-freight transport permit system that restricts the transport of freight by road would be extremely harmful to the road-freight transport industry, which is already feeling the pressure of a depressed economy.

It would also have a serious effect on the country’s economy, as, in my opinion, rail cannot presently provide an efficient and secure system of moving general freight around the country and to neighbouring states.

We have previously had road-freight transport permit systems that restricted the movement of freight by road in order to protect rail. The first restriction came into effect in 1930 when the government introduced the Motor Carriers Act of 1930.

Until 1930, rail had enjoyed the major slice of the market, as trucks did not have the load capacity or the durability to compete with rail. However, by 1930, some of the freight traditionally transported by rail was starting to be transported by road. To counter this threat, the Act was introduced to protect and safeguard the rail system.                                                                                                                                  

The Motor Carriers Transport Act of 1930 severely (and almost completely) restricted the transportation of goods by road.

The Road Transport Act of 1977 replaced the Motor Carriers Transport Act of 1930. This Act did allow more freedom; nevertheless, the transportation of goods by road was still controlled by the “Permit System”. This dictated what could be transported where and by whom.                          

Transporters wishing to transport goods had to apply to the Transportation Board for a permit.

However, gradually, under the principle of deregulation, more and more road transportation was allowed without the need for an authorising permit. In 1993, the permit system ceased to exist altogether for vehicles operating within South Africa.                                                                                                                            

Presently, transportation permits are required only for carrying paying passengers and goods that are transported across the border.

In my opinion, there is a need to move more freight by rail in South Africa, in order to relieve some of the road-traffic congestion, protect our roads and reduce the rate of horrific and unacceptable road accidents.

However, the reintroduction of a road-freight permit system is not the answer. Rail must compete with road transport on an even playing field and allow customers to choose the mode of freight transport.


One of this country’s most respected commercial vehicle industry authorities, VIC OLIVER has been in this industry for over 50 years. Before joining the FOCUS team, he spent 15 years with Nissan Diesel (now UD Trucks), 11 years with Busaf and seven years with International.

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Focus on Transport

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