Motorists could spend thousands at Cape toll roads

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Commuters and transport companies could spend thousands of Rands a month if tolls are implemented in the Western Cape, indicates proposed toll fees kept secret until now.

Information about proposed toll fees government’s preferred bidder, Protea Parkways Consortium (PPC), plans to charge at tolls on the N1 and N2 highway, have made it into the public domain. Ten tolls would be implemented if the plan is approved.

The City of Cape Town (CoCT) is meanwhile pushing ahead with its court battle to stop government and its South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) from imposing tolls on Western Cape routes.

The two parties are to meet again at the Western Cape High Court on 11 August.

On Tuesday last week, CoCT claimed a victory when the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein ruled that Sanral should hand over various documents that it had withheld from public scrutiny.

This included PPC’s bid document, which Sanral chief executive Nazir Alli said was kept out of public view, as it was “necessary to protect the competitiveness of the bids and the bidders’ confidential information”.

“Sanral was not attempting to keep anything about the road secret. However, the bidding process had not been completed and it,” said Alli.

PPC’s proposed toll fee structure can now be revealed via court order. If the tolls go ahead, it would charge different fees for four classes of vehicles.

Monthly fees would run into thousands of Rands for commuters or companies that pass through tolls daily.

Councillor Brett Herron, CoCT mayoral committee member for transport, claimed this week PPC “anticipates toll revenue in the region of R48 billion”.

The city’s transport department appealed to the courts for the right to review Sanral’s bidding procedure. As a result, it obtained information that was previously unknown to citizens who would be most affected.

Herron said: “As far as the city is concerned the project will not benefit road users because the toll revenue will exceed the road user benefits.

“Should the tolling of the N1 and N2 freeways go ahead, residents from the Western Cape and visitors to this region will pay toll tariffs that are nearly three times that of the e-toll tariffs that are being charged by the new Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project.”

Herron this week also accused Sanral of “misleading the public” about the proposed Winelands Tolling Project.

“The public has not been given information on the proposed toll tariffs. They have only been provided with general information,” he said.

“The city denies that the decisions declaring this tolling project have been taken lawfully and in accordance with the Sanral Act. This has to be proved by Sanral in court.”

He also raised concern about Sanral’s reimbursement provision that would see it compensate PPC for any income shortfall.

“Should the national minister of transport determine lower toll tariffs than PPC is entitled to charge under the concession contract, Sanral must reimburse the concessionaire (PPC) by an amount that will place it in the same economic position it would have been,” said Herron.

Alli said only the transport minister would set toll tariffs “once the competitive bidding process for the road is complete”.

A Sanral statement this week confirmed the bidding process was “far from complete” although there have been indications PPC was its preferred bidder.

Sanral said the CoCT has “regularly misconstrued and misunderstood both the numbers and the processes related to this road (the N1 and N2 toll projects)”.

Alli defended Sanral’s decision to push ahead with plans to add toll stops on the Western Cape portions of these two national roads.

“What is misunderstood is that roads, which are vital for infrastructural and economic development in our country, are expensive to build and maintain. A road is never finished,” he said.

“It requires constant maintenance, including regular resurfacing and upgrading, and that will apply to this road as well. This is the essence of a concession, as will be the case here, where the concessionaire takes on these responsibilities and carries the risk for traffic and many other variables over the course of a 30-year concession.”

Alli added: “It brings with it enormous economic development. It is a strategic infrastructure project that is necessary to sustain and develop the Western Cape.

“There are also additional benefits to the economy in the eased flow of transport of people and goods in and out of the Western Cape. This has decided benefits for industry, tourism and a host of other sectors.”

He also said the “highways around Cape Town need urgent attention”.

“Traffic congestion is now higher than anywhere else in the country, and the longer the delay in rectifying the situation, the worse it will become,” said Alli.

CoCT argues there is no need for tolls on the Western Cape portions of the highways.

Herron said Sanral did also not consider “whether or not low-income groups would be able to afford to use the N1 and N2 freeways should they become toll roads”.

“The negative macro-economic impact on the region has not been considered, the effect it would have on the transport costs of agricultural products, to name but one,” he said.

He said the CoCT would in court papers filed by April 25 “fully disclose the (PPC) calculations that are being investigated by nine experts… how much of every Rand collected in toll fees will be spent on the toll project infrastructure and operations as opposed to road improvements, maintenance and operational work”.

N1 and N2 toll gate workers in Gauteng have meanwhile gone on strike for better wages. Chris Nkosi, Gauteng secretary of the South African Transport Workers Union (Satawu), said yesterday their strike started this week.

It was in relation to PT Operations contracted to “operate certain highway toll gates on the N1 and N2” in Gauteng. Workers want their monthly salaries to increase from R2,000 to R4,500 a month.

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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