Plans are in place for a multi-lane, free-flow tolling system – also known as open road tolling – to be in implemented in Gauteng over the next 15 months.

The R1.16-billion toll system will form part of Gauteng’s freeway improvement project and will consist of numerous toll gantries positioned around the province’s highways.

These won’t require motorists to stop and pay. Instead, they will use electronic equipment to capture images of the front and rear of vehicles passing underneath, recognise the number plate and size classification of the vehicle, then process an electronic toll .

The information recorded at the gantries will be forwarded to a transaction clearing house to determine whether the vehicle can be linked to an account previously set up by the vehicle user or owner.

Similar to cellphone contracts, the account can be set up as pre-paid or linked directly to a credit card. Road users without any pre-arranged accounts will be invoiced for outstanding tolls once transactions over a certain period (likely to be monthly) have been processed.

Road users with vehicles registered in Gauteng will have various account set-up options including the internet, a call centre and more than 50 ORT information centre kiosks positioned around the province.

Paper copies of accounts will be made available but all account information will be directly available through a web page.

According to South African National Roads Agency senior project manager Alex van Niekerk, the system can cope with high volumes of traffic and is capable of capturing images of vehicles travelling at very high speeds

He also says that, while the system will be able to recognise the identification tags of Gauteng’s proposed new hi-tech number plate system, it is not a pre-requisite of its operation. The ORT system will work with any number plate.

When asked if ORT would be capable of processing Gauteng’s high number of highway users daily, Van Niekerk said the system, which is already in use elsewhere in the world, was designed to handle more than the anticipated number of transactions as well as future growth.

As part of the first phase of the freeway improvement project, upgrades are under way on 185km of Gauteng’s freeway network, including the N1 from Soweto to the N4 in Pretoria, the N3 from Alberton to Buccleuch (N1), the N12 from the N1 to the N3 (south of Johannesburg), as well as from the N3 (Gilloolys) to Benoni and the R21 (Boksburg to Pretoria).

ESTIMATED COST: 50c/KM

These roads will receive lane additions, interchange upgrades, median barriers, lighting and, eventually, ORT gantries.

The toll gantries will be placed at approximately 10km intervals over this network. Van Niekerk said future phases involving further upgrading of other freeways would follow, as well as the construction of new freeways.

Although not yet finalised, the estimated cost of using Gauteng’s highways will be around 50c a kilometre. The final charges, which will take into account inflation as well as frequent road-user discounts, are expected to be announced later in 2010. The ORT system is expected to be in operation by April 2011