Commuters from other South African provinces will be able to register for a day pass for the open-road tolling (ORT) system to be implemented as part of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP).

The GFIP is one of the country’s biggest infrastructure projects, which aims to expand Gauteng’s highway network, and will operate as an ORT system.

A pass issued to out-of-province or non-regular commuters will provide access to the freeway network for a day. A grace period for payment will be provided for an individual that is not aware of the ORT system and does not have a valid account, and for a commuter that is using the Gauteng freeway for the first time. These commuters will be automa- tically registered on the account system used for the ORT system.

Different vehicle classes will pay different tariffs, and frequent users may get discounts if they have registered accounts.

The ORT system will use different identifiers to scan vehicles, including an electronic tag, which will be issued to a road user. The user pays a deposit for the tag, which can be used as credit when the user is tolled.

The electronic tag will be positioned behind the rear view mirror on the windscreen, where a reader on a gantry will be able to track it. Gantry structures built across the freeway will be used to mount cameras and scanners.

It is not necessary to have an electronic tag, but it is important to have an account, as this is the most cost-effective way of paying the toll. The alternative system, which is for vehicles without a tag, uses cameras to provide pictures of the vehicle’s front and rear number plates.

The South African gantries will have specific design features, which will distinguish them from those used in other countries. “We have designed an access point and a walkway for maintenance work. This will be benefit traffic flow, as there is no need to close any lanes,” says South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) project manager Alex van Niekerk.

Vehicle classification on the new tolling system will differ from the classification system used on other national tolling roads. The vehicles are classified volumetrically, instead of measuring the number of axles of the vehicle. This classifies the vehicle as either a light, medium or a heavy vehicle and charges are allocated accordingly.

Van Niekerk explains that following the vehicle classification, information from the gantry is then sent electronically to the ORT back office, to be sorted and packaged cor- rectly. The information is then sent to the transaction clearing house that houses the banking and accounting systems. “When a customer sets up an account, either at a kiosk, telephonically or at a satellite centre of Sanral, [the customer] will be directly billed. For those users without an account, or who have defaulted on their account, an invoice will be generated by the violation-processing centre (VPC),” he adds.

Van Niekerk says that the legislation governing the tolling system will not be tolerant of commuters who do not make payments. If the commuters have a valid account, and have not paid, they will then receive an invoice. If the commuter fails to pay after 14 days, the invoice is passed to the VPC. The VPC may then link on to the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offence database and send out an infringement notice after which the commuter then has 30 days to pay. With every invoice that the commuter receives, an additional fee is added to the initial tolling fee, until the fee is paid.

Failure to pay may result in points being added to the demerit system. It will also require the user to pay outstanding toll fees when renewing drivers licences.

The contractor, who provides the road-side equipment, such as the tag readers and cameras, will be held responsible for system failures, such as issuing payments to the wrong vehicle. “We have released the tender with all our specifications and will enter into a design-build- operate contract. This means that if a contractor’s system fails, [the contractor is] held liable for the loss of revenue,” Van Niekerk adds.

Incorrect charging and billing can happen in any system. “We work on an incentive and penalty system. If the contractor issues the bills incorrectly, he or she will be penalised accordingly,” says Van Niekerk. He adds that a commuter may also make a nomination for the billing, if someone else, such as an employee or family member, is the driver of the vehicle.

Van Niekerk explains that a challenge for Sanral is the use of false and duplicate number plates, which will result in incorrect billing. However, he says that the implementation of the new intelligent number plates, which have a built-in identification chip, will prevent duplication.

He points out that the question of alternative routes arises when reference is made to tolling. The increase in fuel prices will result in commu- ters choosing not to use the freeway because of additional costs. “The secondary roads in Gauteng are mostly congested and people will save on petrol, car maintenance and time by using the toll routes.”

The GFIP, which includes the upgrade of significant roads and arterial routes, aims to be substantially completed by November 2010.

The N1 between the Atterbury off-ramp and the R21 interchange will be completed by September this year and the R21 and N1 past Soccer City will be completed by May 2010.

The project aims to increase lanes and to promote the use of public transport and travel demand management, says Van Niekerk. “Upgrading the freeway will relieve the congestion that we are currently experiencing. We also realised that the congestion on our roads has a far-reaching impact, including social, environmental and economic effects.

“If the first phase is successful, we will start implementing the second phase of the GFIP, which consists of building new freeways. This will happen from 2012 onwards. However, we have to appoint consultants to undertake environmental assessments, engineering planning as well as determine the land requirements, which can take up to four years,” he concludes.