First publishedin ITS International
Technically efficient but tolling the Gauteng freeway has met political resistance
Tolling technology is now at an advanced state but governments have a key role in ensuring the success of schemes as is evident in Africa. Shem Oirere reports.
According to the African Development Bank, the continent has an estimated $46bn of infrastructure financing deficit. The bank says sub-Saharan Africa requires $93bn annually to meet its infrastructure development needs - but only half of the financing is available.
A few countries have introduced intelligent transport systems on improved road sections and concessioning of selected stretches. This is being combined with better road maintenance and expenditure management, project pricing reforms, better and regulatory change to finance much-needed rehabilitation and maintenance of roads, as well as the construction and upgrading of roads and highways.
South Africa leads the road tolls strategy with the launch of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) by the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral), a state-run firm mandated to manage, maintain and develop the country’s national road network.
GFIP entailed the upgrading of 200km (125miles) of highway (later extended to 560km/350 miles) by widening existing freeways to four lanes and building new freeways and bridges as well as the rehabilitation of existing ones. Following the upgrading, free-flow electronic tolling was introduced in late 2013.
Two years before the e-tolls went live, Sanral awarded the contract for the multilane free-flow tolling system to Electronic Toll Collection, a subsidiary of Kapsch TrafficCom.
Kapsch told ITS International the contract covered the design and implementation of an open road tolling system for the Gauteng Province, a national transaction clearing house and violations processing centre.
“GFIP is one of the largest electronic toll collection systems for open road tolling in the world and a cornerstone from a technical perspective. The electronic toll collection system allows a free flow of traffic without stopping at toll stations and represents a great convenience for users,” said Kapsch.
Sanral financed the $1.5bn project through issuance of state-guaranteed bonds and at least $316m of bonds are due in September 2025.Transport minister Dipuo Peters said that by Sanral collecting toll fees directly or through a concessionaire, the agency will be able to repay the $1.5bn debt.
South Africa does have other tolled roads which use traditional plazas with barriers. On the Gauteng Freeway overhead gantries fitted with electronic toll collection equipment have been installed every 10km and between interchanges along the tolled section.
Owners must register their vehicles which are identifiable by the licence number alone or in combination with an e-tag. According to Sanral, the e-tag is linked to a specific vehicle number to prevent cloning of numbers by unscrupulous motorists. The e-tags can be purchased online, at the post office, Sanral-approved kiosks and approved retail outlets.
As a registered vehicle passes beneath a gantry, the electronic toll collection reader transmits the registration details to Sanral’s e-tolls central operations centre (COC). The centre has a transaction clearing house where registered accounts are managed alongside an e-toll call centre.
The COC also has a separate violation processing centre where all traffic offences and cases of outstanding tolls are dealt with. Both were set up by Kapsch.
Recently, following the intervention of various groups opposed to the e-tolls, Sanral reduced the e-toll charges to 18c/km for motorcycles, 30c/km for cars, 75c/km for medium heavy vehicles and R1.50/km for large vehicles.
It also fixed the maximum monthly toll fees at $9.58 for motorcycles, $17.24 for cars, $67.04 for medium vehicles and $222.19 for heavy vehicles - a 50% reduction from the initial charges. Infrequent users are exempted from the toll if they pass beneath fewer than 30 gantries but pay the normal rate for the full journey if that exceeds 30 gantries.
Those who do not settle their account within a month will pay double the amount - capped at $19.15, $34.48, $134.08 and $452.04 per month respectively for motorcycles, cars, medium heavy and large vehicles. Peters had told Parliament that drivers will not be able renew their vehicle’s licence unless all outstanding e-tolls are settled. Sanral gives 60% discount on all outstanding toll fees.
Sanral has become the subject of much political debate and protests on the streets of South Africa
“With the announcement in May that the user-pay principle will stay but the tariffs will reduced, e-toll cash receipts began recovering,” said Sanral’s chief financial officer, Inge Mulder. The e-toll earnings rose from $4.6 million in April to $6.2 million in July.
Peters says despite the e-tolls “being a tried and tested method on other services provided by the state,” many still question the correctness of the system.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions, one of the groups resisting the e-tolls, says road users “should not be forced to pay to travel on roads we have already paid for through taxes and fuel levy.”
Bonginkosi Dlamini, leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party, supports the resistance to e-tolls saying “they will increase the cost of doing business in Gauteng.”
“Gauteng routes are not new routes but existing routes whose base structure costs have been paid through taxation over time,” he said.
The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (OUTA) is calling for alternative road financing sources, arguing that the introduction of e-tolls was done without adequate public consultations. It said the plan faces difficulties in enforcing the billing system, unclear dispute resolution mechanisms and lack of adequate of means of transport for road users in South Africa.
“The installation of elaborate and complex toll gantries, electronic tags in every vehicle and the revenue collection system for this specific project, means that users will pay not only the expense of the road construction but additionally, they must suffer the unnecessary burden of this specific toll collection system,” says the group.
According to OUTA this amounts to “extortion” as Gauteng has been developed “over decades along these freeway routes and then introduce an additional tax for use thereof, especially in the absence of alternative public transport services and routes.”
In Western Cape, resistance is brewing against Sanral’s proposed Winelands Toll Project covering sections of N1 and N2. The city’s mayor Patricia Lille says the decision to proceed with toll roads “is irrational.”
Sanral and Ms Peters have rejected suggestions that a fuel levy is an option to finance South Africa’s road sector. Sanral outgoing CEO Nazir Ali says, “a fuel levy is inequitable” and would require $0.27 fuel levy to cover current road financing demands.
Despite widespread non-payment of tolls, the National Prosecuting Authority, which is mandated to prosecute non-payers, could not confirm any prosecution against e-toll defaulters. The reluctance of government to pursue e-toll evaders may be politically motivated rather than an inability to enforce the scheme. Peters has been quoted as saying the government is not ready to “criminalise large portions of Gauteng voters.”
Currently, stakeholders are debating the way forward with at least two cases challenging the legitimacy of the tolling still pending in the South African courts. And while the government is pushing for e-tolls to finance the country’s roads, the ruling African National Congress party is split on how to proceed with enforcing the new system.
However there are success stories. Pierre Guislain, a senior director at the World Bank, says the performance of the tolled Dakar-Diamniadio road in Senegal is a good example of how to toll roads in the region.
He attributes the successful tolling of 20.4km of Dakar-Diamniadio road to “political resolve” which he said is mandatory “to support the introduction of tolling and the periodic increases in tolls built into the concession agreement.”
“Without this, the imposition of tolls is likely to provoke opposition from residents and road users,” he said in a document: ‘Private Sector Involvement in Road Financing’ released in December.
“The tolls in Senegal prompted criticism and some protests, but less than experienced elsewhere - possibly due to the advance promotion of the benefits of the highway to prospective users, previous tolling along the corridor and the existence of an un-tolled alternative.” The tolled road was launched in 2013, the same year the Gautent e-tolls were introduced. French company Eiffage’s Senegalese subsidiary Senac is the operator of the tolled highways which has cut travel time by between 15 and 90mins. Senac has also been awarded a 25-year concession to design, build, finance and operate a 16.5km link to Dakar’s new International Airport.
The outcome was not as good for the now-terminated Lekki Toll Road Concession for the Lekki-Lagos Expressway which was initially concessioned for 30-years to the Lekki Concession Company. According to Guislain, in 2013 the state government in Lagos was forced to buy back the ownership of the 50km Expressway “to avoid popular opposition to the introduction of tolling on the improved road.
“The expressway attracted substantial private finance with 68% of the project financing obtained from private sources. This is very high in view of the perception of Nigeria country risk amongst international investors and demonstrates that substantial private finance can be attracted for PPP toll roads in Africa,” he said. Lagos State government will pay back $204m to a consortium of senior lenders after the concession buy-back.
What Africa shows is that political will is required to introduce and enforce the road tolling many politicians admit is desirable.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Shem Oirere, is a Freelance Journalist/Writer specialising in construction, construction materials and the energy industries.