Tense stand-off between government officials and public at e-toll hearing

2012-11-14 11:36
Sabelo Ndlangisa
The first round of public hearings on e-tolling tariffs degenerated into a stand-off between the public and government officials in Kempton Park.

This was after the government officials who convened the hearing last night told participants that the hearings were not about objections to the implementation of e-tolling, and mainly about the gazetted regulations and the processes to be followed in the implementation of tolling on Gauteng’s freeways.

Transport department official Adam Masombuka said the department had received numerous comments since the 30-day public participation process, which closes on November 26, was gazetted last month.

However, a lot of the comments were “irrelevant” as they merely said “no to e-tolling”.

Masombuka said that wouldn’t help as the government would not review its decision to forge ahead with e-tolling.

Some of the people who came to the hearings at the Premier Hotel expressed anger when they heard that e-tolling was a done deal, as they had come to object.

Gauteng resident Craig Coetzee said people were struggling to make ends meet, and that R500 a month was too much for them. The toll is capped at R500 for small vehicles with e-tags.

“We cannot afford it. We are being taxed too much. We are being taxed on our petrol bill. We are being taxed on everything ... R500 a month to some people is one week’s groceries.

“Give us a viable alternative to the toll roads ... ” he said, standing up, prompting calls for security to rein in those who shouted their objections from the floor.

Others questioned whether the discount on the tariffs would result in above-inflation increases in future as government still needed to pay off the R20 billion equity it raised to expand and refurbish the Gauteng freeway network.

Another Gauteng resident, Russel Baloyi, said his community of Ethwathwa and Daveyton would be hurt by e-tolling on the N12 as they used the road to access education and work opportunities in nearby towns.

He said there was no public transport system linking the townships to neighbouring towns, and said levying a toll would simply frustrate the goals of reducing poverty and increasing access to better education opportunities.

“For many years the people of Ethwathwa have been complaining that they want the extension of rail (to the township). There’s no bus service, so buying a car for a person who has found a job becomes the main priority.

“We are sitting with three tolls (gantries) and we think it’s too much. People in Soweto and other areas have access to roads to access opportunities,” Baloyi said.

Another resident questioned why the government was suggesting that she should use public transport when there was none between her hometown of Alberton and Midrand where she works.

A government official said the provincial government was working on an “integrated” public transport plan but wouldn’t say when it was due to launch.

Two hearings will be held in Pretoria and Sandton today and tomorrow.