E-tolling: Motorists ‘can only blame themselves’
The South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) has denied engaging in a concerted effort to conceal from the public the true nature of the upgrades to Gauteng roads and has accused motorists of standing by, only to raise an issue after being asked to start paying up.
This was the argument made by the agency’s lawyer, Advocate David Unterhalter, in the judicial review of e-tolling in the North Gauteng High Court today.
He told the court there was no way the court could undo an executive decision to toll Gauteng roads as the decision was the funding method agreed on long before the roads upgrade began.
Unterhalter also accused the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (OUTA), which applied for a review of the decisions to toll, of “invoking civil disobedience” against the tolling system by waiting for four years to raise their concerns.
He told the court that those involved with OUTA were merely representing the interests of wealthy people intent on making taxpayers foot the bill for the upgrades, thereby eating away at the public purse which largely caters for the poorest of the poor.
“The people who stand to benefit from this review are the better-off members of the public who can rent, buy, insure a car,” said Unterhalter.
“The problem is that these organisations (that are part of OUTA) knew back then what was going to happen.
“These organisations were entirely in the know and nothing stopped them from mobilising society against the tolls or taking a class action to court,” said Unterhalter in reference to the Automobile Association, Road Freight Association and the SA Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association.
“These organisations not only knew, they stood by for four years while the upgrades were being done and the gantries went up, but when it came time to pay they instituted legal action … and they now seek condonation for that,” said Unterhalter.
He said it was untrue that the tolling was concealed from the public until the tariffs were announced in February 2011.
Unterhalter said Jeff Radebe, the transport minister at the time of the decision, went as far as publicly commending the tolling decision and the upgrades on October 8 2007.
“Not a single person raised their their hands against tolling. All the evidence shows that people knew the method of funding but no one took the matter forward including civil society and these organisations which represent Gauteng motorists,” said Unterhalter.
The agency has asked the court to dismiss OUTA’s application on the basis that it was filed outside the 180-day deadline the alliance had to oppose any plans to toll.
Unterhalter also dismissed claims by OUTA lawyer Mike Maritz SC that both Sanral and government hid the true nature of the declaration of Gauteng roads as toll roads back in 2007.
“This grand and devilish conspiracy theory that SANRAL created a sterile notice (to declare roads as tolls) cannot be proven.
“The highway improvement scheme was undertaken from the premise of tolling. What are we now to do with such a challenge?” asked Unterhalter, who urged the court not play into OUTA’s hands.
He also rejected OUTA’s claims that the agency did nothing to correct public perceptions that the road upgrades were part of the 2010 Fifa World Cup held in South Africa.