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Engineering body stands up for e-tolling

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JOHANNESBURG – The engineering sector remains the sole defender of Gauteng’s e-tolls at hearings of the provincial government’s advisory panel given the task of assessing the socioeconomic impact of e-tolling.

While most organisations that have made submissions to the panel called for the scrapping of the controversial system and an increased fuel levy, Consulting Engineers of SA (Cesa) — representing companies, some of which constructed the highway improvements — said e-tolling “ was the best solution” for maintaining infrastructure.

At a debate hosted recently by the South African Institution of Civil Engineering, transport analyst Andrew Marsay told the loudest critics of e-tolling — Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) spokesman Patrick Craven and Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance chairman Wayne Duvenage — that their organisations had misled the public into thinking that the system burdened lower income groups the most.

“Cosatu has managed to convince people who should have known better that e-tolling is a regressive tax on the poor,” Marsay said. “This is misleading as less than 20% of Gauteng’s residents own a car.

“It has been argued that a fuel levy is an alternative to e-tolling, but this argument ignores the fact that the prime thrust of national government’s infrastructure policy is not financial efficiency but social equity.”

Craven said Cosatu received a mandate to oppose e-tolling from its members who owned and used vehicles.

“Thousands of union members have to use their cars to get to work because there is no alternative.

“The spatial legacy of apartheid means they live far from places of work and the lack of transport infrastructure means they have no choice but to use private cars.”

Economist Gerhard de Villiers said e-tolling was the most effective means to reduce congestion, which would benefit logistics companies and therefore the economy. “ Mobility is needed at all costs to move freight, people, goods and services efficiently.

“Scrapping e-tolling would increase the burden on our roads, costs (for businesses), and severely harm the prospects of logistics.”

Duvenage said e-tolling was doomed to fail because it did not have the support of Gauteng residents, who were not complying with it. “When you introduce a law, and the people resist it, you have to win the argument with them. If you don’t get compliance and you can’t enforce it, then you have lost.”

Wallace Mayne, a Cesa civil engineer, told the debate that the national fiscus was “severely stretched” and road infrastructure could not compete with priorities such as education and healthcare.

“What makes Gauteng more important than the Northern Cape where people are suffering from a lack of infrastructure?”

He said raising the fuel levy to recover the costs of the improvements was impractical as it would be “silly to expect the national government to oversee roads in one province”.

The national government maintains that e-tolling will not be scrapped, regardless of the conclusions the panel reaches. But the Gauteng government seems hopeful that the controversy around the e-tolls can be resolved.

“The views of the people of Gauteng will be heard and, if need be, implemented,” Gauteng MEC for education Panyaza Lesufi said recently.

The establishment of an advisory panel on e-tolling demonstrated the “commitment that the Gauteng government has to hear the views of all of its residents”.

“We must have better roads and not have a situation where people have restricted freedom of movement .”

– BDLive

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