When Gauteng motorists will be tolled for using the province’s busiest freeways in early 2011, the system will work somewhat like a prepaid cell phone contract.

South African National Roads Agency Limited senior project manager Alex van Niekerk says car owners will be asked to set up accounts, either by phoning in, or going to a website, and to then load money onto these accounts before entering the tolling system, or to link payment to their credit cards.

Once this is done, commuters must go to an outlet to get an electronic tag or transponder, to be displayed in their front windscreens.

Commuters will not be charged for this tag, says Van Niekerk.

“There will be a one-tag standard,” he adds. “You will be able to go through any toll gate in South Africa – not only Gauteng – with this tag.”

The tag means the toll transaction is a quick, electronic one, with no physical toll gates where money is collected.

Motorists simply pass underneath a gantry, housing the equipment which reads the tag while also taking a photo of the licence plates, as soon as their vehicles break a laser beam.

This so-called open-road tolling system also classifies the vehicle in terms of size, charging the appropriate amount.

Gantries are placed along and at entry points on the freeways, such as on- and off-ramps.

The entire phase one of the Gauteng freeway system under toll – 185 km of road – will be looked after by ten satellite centres, which will act as the first line of incident management, dispatching medical assistance if needed.

The roads will be monitored by closed-circuit television cameras.

Sanral already has tow trucks on standby in case of vehicle breakdowns, explains Van Niekerk.

Methods have been devised to track down commuters who attempt to avoid paying toll fees, he adds.

Should a vehicle not have a tag, system operators will type in the licence plate number from the photo which has been taken, thereby tracking down the owner.

Van Niekerk says violations will include not carrying a tag, the inability to identify a vehicle, and having insufficient funds.

When this happens, a motorist will receive an invoice, then an infringement notice (which is equivalent to a fine), followed by a courtesy letter, an enforcement order, and finally the issue of a warrant.

Should a visitor outside Gauteng enter the system, signage will warn the motorist to go to the nearest satellite centre to register, or to phone a toll-free number.

It may also be possible to buy a day pass at a retail outlet before entering the system.

Van Niekerk says the proposed toll fee is currently set at 50c/km, but notes that inflation has probably impacted on this already.

He says discount will be offered to regular users, using a sliding scale.

Van Niekerk explains that this means a commuter will pay the full fee for the first ten trips, for example, with costs then reducing in a step-by-step fashion the further the commuter travels.

Public transport vehicles, such as minibus taxis, will have the benefit of driving in the lanes reserved for vehicles with three or more occupants, as well as receiving a discount on toll fees.

Tolling will be the method used to fund the Gauteng Free Improvement Project, which is a multi-phased project currently underway to expand and widen the province’s freeway network, currently choking under increased congestion.

Phase one carries an estimated R15,1-billion price tag, excluding VAT.

Van Niekerk says implementing the toll scheme comes after extensive market research – 27 000 interviews – in aspects of commuter behaviour.

He adds that some other city freeways in the country are currently under investigation to become toll roads, such as the N1/N2 approach to Cape Town, and the R300 Cape Town ring road. Also included are the roads around the new Dube Trade Port, in Durban.

PUBLICATION: Engineering News
DATED: 1st October 2009