Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Gauteng tolls to start April 2013

I’ve written before about the controversial decision by the South African government to toll a whole network of upgraded highways in the Gauteng region, to fund the construction of new highways and widening of existing ones. It is controversial because it involves tolling previously untolled sections of highway.

IOL reports that the South African government intends to implement all legislation necessary to let the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project tolls to come into effect. This includes making non-payment of tolls as civil offences.

Transport Director General George Mahlalela is reported as saying:

improved roads had huge benefits to Gauteng motorists, because instead of the two-hour travel it would take them 30 minutes. He added that other advantages of improved roads were less fuel usage and less congestion.

“What we are saying to the people of Gauteng is that what you lose on the tariffs you pay, you gain back on the other side. In real terms you are not losing much on this toll roads,” he said.

The Sowetan explains the prices:

Prices will be 58c (US$0.08) per km for cars without DSRC tags, but only 30c (US$0.04) for those with tags.  Small trucks will pay R1.45 (US$0.19) per km without tags and R0.75 (US$0.10) with tags.  Heavy trucks will pay R2.90 (US$0.38) per km  without tags and R1.51 (US$0.20) with tags.  There are also tolls for motorcycles.  There will be a cap of R50 per month (US$6.58).

Heavy vehicles can gain a 20% discount if they use the highways off peak.  Buses and taxis will be exempt.

Full details of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project are now on its dedicated website.  The tolls are at a lower level than first estimated, as the government has decided to part pay for the highway improvements from general revenue of US$764 million.

The Business Day column in the Independent Online  (South Africa) says the government has taken an "elegant solution" saying it supports user pays:

This sends an important signal to local and international private investors that the government’s handling of infrastructure development allows for the levying of fees, which helps them recoup their investments in such projects.

The user-fee principle is universally accepted and has been applied with great success for toll roads in South Africa and the rest of the world. Most infrastructure projects rely on this user-fee business model to convince investors, like pension funds, to come aboard.

It is pleasing that tolls are proceeding, but the concessions needed to get some degree of public approval have been considerable (and the unions remain unhappy).  It is true the highway improvements will be considerable for South Africa and tolling is an efficient way of paying for it, but I suspect what will be needed is for more off peak rates and peak charges to compensate for that - given that the main beneficiaries of the improvements are peak users that no longer face the congestion the improvements are meant to relieve.

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