E-toll ads unsubstantiated, misleading – ASA

Two adverse findings may lead to stricter sanctions.

The Advertisings Standards Authority of South Africa (ASA) has warned the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) it may require seeing all e-toll advertisements before publication.

This follows after two of the agency’s e-toll advertisements were ruled in breach of the advertising code on account of being unsubstantiated and misleading. Among other things Sanral could not prove the 1,2 million e-tag take-up it claimed.

The ASA warned Sanral to ensure its advertisements comply before publishing, or face a further sanction of pre-publication approval.

Sanral said in a statement the two advertisements have run its course and will no longer be flighted.

The first complaint related to a campaign promoting e-tags and related costs. The claims were flighted on radio and in print advertisements. It stated if the 2,5 million vehicles Sanral tracks on e-tolled freeways were fitted with e-tags, less than 1% would pay more than R400 per month for e-tolls. It also gave percentages for other cost brackets.

The complainant, a Mr. Haywood, disputed this and said according to his calculations more than 10% will reach the cap of R450 per month and less than 8% would pay less than R100 per month.

The ASA required “independent, credible evidence for all claims made”. Even after being granted an extension, no such evidence was provided and the ASA ruled the claims should be withdrawn with immediate effect.

The second complaint, brought by Sheleen Long, a consumer, and Rob Hutchinson from the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa), related to the claim that 1,2 million people and organisations have taken up e-tags and the benefits it holds.

The number was disputed, as well as the claim that the toll roads are safer due to the lights and cameras along the route. The complainant argued that not all the lights are working and the cameras are used for the purpose of tolling, not for improving safety.

Again Sanral could not substantiate the number of e-tags sold. It further stated that 80% – 90% of the lights are working at any given time, but supply problems from municipal suppliers or Eskom, cable theft, vandalism, cable or transformer faults or maintenance actions may lead to lights not functioning.

The ASA ruled the claim that 1,2 million e-tags have been taken up is unsubstantiated. It ruled the advertisement does not claim the lights would always be shining and that part of the complaint is therefore dismissed. It however ruled the claim that cameras are ‘watching over you’ “creates a misleading impression and exaggerates the functionality and purpose of these cameras.”

The offending advertisements have to be withdrawn immediately.

Sanral said in a statement it has no intention to mislead the public. “We take note of all conditions of the law and will continue to comply,” its spokesperson Vusi Mona said.

It explained that different e-tag numbers may refer to sales, registration and take-up, which are different things. It further said it is dependent on other parties like retailers for some of the numbers.

“In view of the ASA ruling, it would mean that all figures released by Sanral would need to be audited figures. However, e-tag figures will need to include auditing 3rd parties’ processes that do not fall within Sanral. The demand for the figures to be audited basically means Sanral can only release these once per annum after the Auditor General has audited the agency” Sanral said.

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