One of South Africa’s biggest toll road concession companies has welcomed plans to introduce an electronic open-tolling system on the country’s highways – but has emphasised that it has no plans to scrap all toll barriers.

The Bakwena Platinum Corridor group, which holds tolling concessions on 385km of freeways on the N1 and N4 routes north of Pretoria, says it has been using open tolling and electronic e-tags since 2002.

Bakwena CEO Graeme Blewitt was reacting to an announcement by the SA National Roads Agency (Sanral) that it planned to introduce a new concept in toll collection known as open-road tolling, nationwide.

The first roads agency open-tolling system is expected to be launched in Gauteng soon after the 2010 World Cup.

Instead of the conventional method of toll plazas and boom gates, open tolling involves an automated system of money collection. Vehicles are fitted with e-tag computer chips that trigger an electronic payment system when the vehicle passes underneath electronic scanning equipment mounted on overhead freeway gantries.

One of the advantages of the system is that motorists do not need to stop to pay toll fees, thereby reducing congestion.

However, there has been concern from the public that some motorists will not pay their toll fees unless they are forced to stop.

The AA has also voiced fears about the high percentage of unregistered vehicles and the potential for non-payment by many road users.

Blewitt said his company became the first toll concessionaire in South Africa to offer motorists the option of using e-tags, in March 2002.

Bakwena estimates that 10 percent of car, caravan and motorcycle traffic on the N1 and N4 now uses e-tags, while 50 percent of traffic in this class still pays cash and 40 percent uses credit cards.

“Over the seven years of e-tag operation, our experience has been that it facilitates a smoother and more efficient passage for road users and reduces congestion,” said Blewitt.

However, he acknowledged that there were “operational points” which made it unlikely that Bakwena would do away with all physical barriers in the foreseeable future.

Bakwena believed it was preferable to use a combination of e-tag open tolling and physical barriers to ensure that all motorists paid their tolls.

“The barriers will not allow thoroughfare if the electronic transaction fails. The e-tag holder will then be required to reverse and pass through a manual gate to pay with cash, garage card or credit card to use the road,” said Blewitt.

“Our toll plazas will still be in operation for some time to come and the infrastructure to manage the booms, and the multiple methods of collection (including e-tags), will still apply.”

PUBLICATION: (The Mercury) (Page 5)
AUTHOR: Tony Carnie
DATED: 14th April 2009