Motorists are going to have to fork out hundreds of rands each month to pay for using any of the national roads in Gauteng from 2010.

With the announcement this month by Jeff Radebe, the transport minister, that the cost of upgrading and maintaining the freeways in Gauteng will be borne by those using these roads, motorists started adding up the future cost of travelling to work and back home every day.

As an example, at the projected cost of 50 cents a kilometre, a person living in Garsfontein in Pretoria East and working in the Johannesburg city centre will travel 160km daily at a toll fee of R80 a day. Multiply that by an average of 22 working days, and the person will pay R1 760 each month – and that excludes the cost of travelling to see clients or to attend meetings.

But the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) argues that it will not be as expensive as one would be led to believe as it is planning to introduce a 40 percent discount for frequent users and categories such as buses, taxis and trucks. Also being planned is a maximum daily or monthly amount to be paid by freeway users.

Ismail Essa, Sanral’s northern regional manager, says the rate of 50c a kilometre is for vehicles without an electronic tag, such as non-regular or occasional users.

“All regular users will be issued with electronic tags free of charge; they will be charged at 30c a kilometre. These rates are for light motor vehicles. Heavy vehicle rates will be proportionally higher. So a user travelling 50km each way a day (a round trip of 100km a day) for 22 days a month will pay R660 a month [in toll fees],” he said.

Radebe said at the launch of the Gauteng Freeway Scheme earlier this month that the government was investing more than R12 billion in the first phase of the Gauteng freeway improvement project.

“For the second phase, which is due for completion in 2015, we will invest R20-billion, and R23-billion for the final phase to be completed in 2018. This project will be financed through the ‘user-pay’ principle, and it will allow our roads to be funded without resorting to the national fiscus,” he said.

By charging motorists to use the roads, the department was hoping to increase the number of lift clubs and the use of public transport.

Wendy Watson, a Sanral spokesperson, said alternative routes will be available, but the cost of tolls was being worked out on the basis of benefit to the road user “so it will probably be cheaper to use the main routes and pay tolls than go through stop-and-start secondary routes”.

Alex van Niekerk, Sanral’s toll and traffic manager, pointed out that, by 2010, the Gautrain will become operational, Metrorail will have been upgraded and bus rapid transit should be in force.

“We are also investigating further public transport options on the freeway network and the promotion of ride share. Due to the exponential growth in vehicle ownership and traffic volumes on our roads, our projections show total gridlock in a few years if we do not look at all options for transportation in the province. Such a scenario will lead to a decline in economic growth as well as increased travel times,” he said.

The transport department has refused to answer questions about why it has to rely on toll fees to fund the upgrading and maintenance of national roads when it budgeted R5,5-billion for that purpose in the present financial year. This is paltry compared to the R16,7-billion allocated for passenger rail and public transport infrastructure, and the R19,2-billion set aside for airports infrastructure. There was also the department’s contribution of R3,2-billion this year for the Gautrain project.

Radebe said the plan was to implement toll technologies that would allow for the free flow of traffic at tolling points as an extension of the existing intelligent transport system. “Electronic toll collection will allow motorists to travel unhindered. The tolling of the road system will begin in 2010/11 through the building of 47 gantries on existing roads, approximately 11km apart,” said Radebe.

“It is estimated that contributions will accrue to the GDP of R14,2-billion and R15,3-billion in 2008 and 2009 through our freeway scheme. The Gauteng GDP for the same years will benefit by R6,3-billion and R6,7-billion.”

Sanral, which is managing the project, strongly refuted claims that any one person or company would be earning huge profits from the venture while the department – which was allocated a portion of taxpayer’s money to perform its duties – spent less and less on fulfilling its obligation to road users.

“The amount of money earned through toll payments is limited to what is allowed in terms of the agreement. Nobody is making excessive profits, and the concessionaires have to build, manage and operate the roads for a 30-year period, after which time they are given back to the state as a working and usable asset,” said Watson.

Essa said that, because the toll network on the N1, N2, N11, N12, N17, N14, N18 and a large number of R-numbered routes in the province will be state toll roads, the funds will go directly to Sanral on behalf of the government.

“Sanral will then pay off the loans taken to finance the cost of the road and pay the various service providers. Sanral will manage the road as it does other state toll roads in South Africa,” he said.

Tolling, Watson said, allowed the country to have more and better developed roads than could be funded out of the central fiscus alone.

“The limitations caused by the inferior and outdated Gauteng infrastructure limit the economic growth of the region as well as cause safety hazards and environmental degradation, and affect people’s quality of life,” she said.

Essa also highlighted the great number of demands on the fiscus that resulted in roads not receiving the required amount.