Transport Bill heads to NCOP

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Cape Town – Members of Parliament in the National Assembly on Tuesday voted on and passed the Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Bill, which will now be sent to the National Council of Provinces for concurrence.

If passed, the bill will make e-tolls and toll roads the preferable way to fund new highways, barring the outcome of a court case brought by the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) against the National Treasury. Outa was granted leave to appeal in January by the North Gauteng High Court.

In a debate on the bill in the National Assembly earlier, the Minister of Transport Ben Martins pointed out that the use of toll tariffs had to be balanced with alternative routes upgrades, continued investment in public transport and stepping up regularity environment to support enforcement.

Amid criticism from opposition members, Martins asked how the country could find a viable way to fund infrastructure development. “It is our responsibility as government to take proper decisions that might be unpopular at certain times,” he said.

The minister said public interactions that the government had held with various stakeholders had found the fuel-levy to be the most favoured option to fund the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project, rather than e-tolls.

However, Martins said such an option – to use the fuel levy to fund the new freeways – would affect all those that buy fuel – not only Gauteng road users.

On top of this, trucks and heavy vehicles would pay the same as other vehicles even though they damage the roads more.

Thirdly, using the fuel levy would make it impossible to exempt certain kinds of users, such as those that utilise public transport or those vehicles for persons with disabilities.

During the debate, Martins said the SA National Road Agency Limited (Sanral) had issued bonds to fund the project, with costs now standing at R24 billion along with capitalised interest, leaving R3.4 billion that needs to be paid from toll revenue.

“The inability to collect revenue will damage the credit reputation of Sanral amongst investors and may price the bonds higher to cover the risk – this in turn would in turn have a negative impact on both Sanral and the government’s credit rating,” he said.

The Democratic Alliance’s Ian Ollis called for a referendum to be conducted next month by Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane on whether the public there want e-tolls.

Ollis said South Africa as a developing nation could not expect the public to afford tolls, which he calculated could cost up to R550 a month to Gauteng commuters.

He said there was plenty of time to conduct a referendum particularly as the Outa appeal is still pending.

Cope’s Pakiso Mbhele said he was also against the bill, while the IFP’s Koos van der Merwe said the bill would increase the costs for the taxpayers and businesses.

The Freedom Front Plus’s Anton Alberts warned that a massive civil disobedience campaign would get under way if e-tolls came into existence.

The ACDP’s Steve Swart questioned how the courts would deal with the expected non-compliance to e-tolls on an already overloaded courts system. –