Etolls are set to be scrapped but Gauteng drivers will still have to pay somehow

  • Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana stated in his 2022 Medium Term Budget Statement that the government is looking to settle Sanral’s Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP)’s debt.
  • The project oversees Gauteng’s etoll system and this debt settlement seems to indicate that etolling will be scrapped in the near future.
  • However, as Gauteng takes on costs to maintain the GFIP’s roads, government will have to find new ways to cover these costs.

Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana revealed on Wednesday’s 2022 Medium Term Budget Statement (MTBS) [PDF] that the Gauteng provincial government and the national government will be settling the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral)’s R47 billion debt and interest obligations on the beleaguered Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP) – the project that maintains Gauteng’s etolls.

Godongwana said that government needs to move past the “debates” of previous years and find solutions to the challenge presented by the maligned etoll system. The matter of etolls had been receiving “priority attention” from the Department of Transport cabinet since 2021, according to Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula.

Etolls have been a money sink for Gauteng for nearly a decade with government delays in dealing with the problem only adding more costs to taxpayers. Introduced in 2013, drivers have been hesitant to adopt etolls due to their perceived high costs. Government has also never been able to enforce the province’s electronic toll system in any meaningful way.

Not only do drivers have to pay every time they pass under the blue light gantries, but they need to pay for the small device used to track the payments too. Generally, Gauteng drivers loath the system which has become iconic of the government’s perceived poor planning.

Now, according to Godongwana, the provincial government will pay 30 percent towards the debt while the majority of the bill will be footed by the national government (70 percent). The national government will transfer R27.7 billion to Sanral to pay off the government-guaranteed debt.

South Africa’s Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) says this is evidence that Gauteng’s roads will soon be free of etolling.

“This is a clear indication to OUTA that the etolling of the Gauteng Freeways will be halted, and the funding mechanism has been shifted to national Treasury and Gauteng provincial government allocations, a solution that OUTA proposed to government over a decade ago,” said OUTA CEO Wayne Duvenage.

According to the finance minister, Gauteng will cover the costs of maintaining the 201 kilometres of roads overseen by the GFIP. He added that “Any additional investment in road will be funded through either the existing electronic toll infrastructure or new toll plazas, or any other revenue source within their area of responsibility.”

The minister’s comments about finding funds through “the existing electronic toll infrastructure or new toll plazas” is cause for some concern for two reasons.

The first is that the existing etoll gantries could still be used to collect some form of road toll from drivers, somehow. The second is that Gauteng drivers may have to deal with more toll plazas built closer to home in the future.

More frequent toll plazas will ensure that the maintenance toll is paid. Government will just have to position them strategically to maximise returns and minimise driver ire.

Speaking to eNCA, OUTA’s CEO said that his organisation does not expect the government to introduce any new “hidden” general taxation methods to recoup the money being used to settle Sanral’s GFIP debt.

Increases to the country’s fuel levy to cover Sanral’s debt are also not expected. Gauteng generates around 35 percent of the fuel levy’s income.

[Image – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Paul Saad on Flickr]


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