E-tolls battle comes to a head
The initial notice of the intention to toll roads in Gauteng by roads agency Sanral was “sterile” and “misleading”, the high court in Pretoria heard on Monday.
Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) lawyer Mike Maritz argued that the public was not aware of what Sanral’s Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) would entail.
“There was virtually nothing to be contained in the sterile notice. It was positively misleading and it conveyed to the public that it was only existing roads that were going to be tolled,” he said.
Maritz said this was why there was such a limited response to the notice.
“As far as the first batch of notices is concerned, there were only 30 respondents out of millions of interested road-using members of the general public,” he said. “That tells its own story.”
He said section 27 of the Sanral Act said public consultation and input on the project was “critical”. However, Sanral argued that the notice was enough. This meant Sanral did not have to tell the public about the costs of the project or how it would be introduced.
He said section 34 of the act stated that Sanral had several options to get capital for the project including fuel levies and help from parliament.
When construction on the project was underway, the soccer World Cup planning had begun, and the man in the street did not know how the developments would be funded, Maritz argued.
“In the public mind, this was all part of the activity surrounding the World Cup. The typical road user … did not know that it would be funded entirely by tolling.”
He said it was possible that Sanral’s alleged non-compliance with section 27 was a “deliberate strategy to keep the public in the dark”.
If the principle of user-pays, or the e-tolls tariffs were released by Sanral in previous notices, the public outcry on the project would have happened earlier.
In September, the constitutional court overturned an interim order which had put a hold on the Gauteng e-tolling project. The court found that the high court in Pretoria had not considered the separation of powers between the high court and the executive.
In April, the high court granted Outa the interdict, ruling that a full review needed to be carried out before electronic tolling could be put into effect. The interdict prevented Sanral from levying or collecting e-tolls pending the outcome of the review.
Sanral and national treasury appealed against the court order, and said delays prevented the payment of the R21bn incurred in building gantries. — Sapa