The controversy over the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project in South Africa has been reported previously on this blog. In essence, a 185km upgrade of highways is to be funded through tolls. This is proving controversial because the tolls are being instituted on roads that were previously untolled. Motorists are upset about being expected to pay the tolls for a road they "cannot avoid" and do not currently have to pay tolls on.
Now according to IOL Motoring, South African Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele claims the Gauteng project is "one of many" future toll road projects. The claim is that a total of 14 billion Rand (US$2 billion) worth of improvements will be developed and funded using tolls.
The report continued:
Responding to a recent parliamentary question, Ndebele revealed that the so-called “user pay” principle - which he claims will only be applied when required - will go some way towards relieving the state’s R149 billion (US$22 billion)road maintenance shortfall. “The ‘user-pay’ (toll) principle is government policy, but is used selectively and only where feasible, and when used, the benefits outweigh the cost to the road user,” he said.
Other proposed toll roads include the N1-N2 Winelands Toll Highway (171km); N2 Wild Coast Toll Highway (560km); R300 Cape Town Ring Road (105km); R30 Bloemfontein to Welkom (160km); N3 Marianhill to Cedara (90km); and the controversial N2 Knysna Bypass (35km).
He continued that:
.”Extensive investigation and evaluation would be done before any final decisions were taken about further tolling, he said. He emphasised that toll fee structures would exclude the initial capital outlay and that users would only be paying for upkeep on the section of road they actually used. Money collected from tolls would also be “ring-fenced” to be used exclusively for maintenance on the applicable route.
Obviously the extensive political fallout around the Gauteng project has made the government slightly more sensitive about tolling. Even so, it was said that tolls will only cover 3 120km – or 2.4 percent – of the country’s 135 000km network of surfaced roads.
However, controversy about tolling is unlikely to end given a recent newspaper report (unavailable) that claimed that a local road engineering company was contracted to do everything from the initial feasibility studies to the costing of the plans and finally the engineering of the project, including the building and operation of the toll gantries. SANRAL claimed there was no conflict of interest, but it is difficult to believe that such horizontal integration across a project can be seen to be maximising value for money, even with the claim of a 20% discount.
Still, the main picture is that tolls are here to stay in South Africa and the government is committed to using tolls to pay for improvements to the highway network. Given that roads are more likely than not to be used by higher income motorists and commercial operators more than the average, it is only fair for those who primarily benefit from the roads to pay for the roads.