Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. (GCIS)

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. (GCIS)

South Africans are cooperating with the government’s new dispensation on e-tolls and as a result the tolling system has been collecting more money from motorists since the announcement of the new hybrid model last month.

This was according to Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was in Parliament for the fortnightly question-and-answer session in the National Assembly on Wednesday.

He also told MPs that the government had to take unpopular decisions sometimes in the interest of its people. He was adamant, however, that ordinary South Africans supported the new e-toll system, which saw tariffs reduced by 50% in some cases.

“As we speak now, the tolling system is receiving thousands of calls from ordinary motorists, who are saying ‘we want to know how to access the benefits that you announced’,” he told the National Assembly.

“The revenue that has been received just in the past month has started picking up and we are certain that, rather than total rejection of this system, we are beginning to see people having a deeper and better understanding of what the government has decided on,” he said.

He added that tolling was difficult because it meant that there was an additional tax that was levied, but in this case it was a tax that people had to pay, knowing what the benefits were.

Ramaphosa, citing the findings of the panel, said the implementation of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project included the benefit to the economy as well as for the people of Gauteng through a better quality road system, reduced travel time, improved fuel efficiency, reduced vehicle operating costs and improved logistics efficiencies.

The independent advisory panel was appointed by the Gauteng premier, David Makhura, in July last year to conduct a comprehensive impact assessment on e-tolling in the province.

Ramaphosa said it was a responsibility of the government to make sure that it acted in the interests of all people and sometimes the decisions that the government took would be unpopular but they were taken with the view of advancing the interests of the many and “this is precisely what has had to happen”.

“The pleasing thing with this one though is that there has been thorough consultation throughout and the consultation process was also engineered and led by an independent panel of experts that was appointed by the Gauteng government.”

Ramaphosa said the new e-toll dispensation sought to achieve a balance between the need on the one hand to finance the construction and maintenance of the freeway system that serves Gauteng now and in the future and on the other hand minimise the financial impact on ordinary South Africans particularly those from low to medium income households who use the Gauteng freeways.

“The new dispensation itself aims to be fair, to be affordable and to be sustainable,” he said.

Ramaphosa revealed that Sanral owed about R20 billion, and added that the money had been raised through a variety of bonds that had certain time frames ranging from five to 20 years.

He reiterated that the agency needed to raise funding to improve the country’s roads.

“If we accept that the user-pay principle should apply and our ordinary people are not opposed to the user-pay principle – they said that we are prepared to pay – then the hybrid model is a wonderful model,” he said, “where all the three key stakeholders – the Gauteng government, national government and users – pay for the roads”.

“I think we should accept that we are going to continue improving our roads and these roads have to be paid for. Somehow, all of us are responsible for paying for these roads,” added Ramaphosa.

He dismissed suggestions of using the fuel levy instead of e-tolls. He said the fuel levy was a general tax that would be levied on buses, taxis and everyone, and it would make it difficult to exempt the poor.

“It would discriminate against the poor and middle income earners. Those poor people are exempted from paying the e-tolls; you can eat your heart out, they are exempted,” he said as he was loudly heckled by opposition MPs.