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Head of e-tolls company was an e-tolls boycotter

But Coenie Vermaak warns that you better prepare for a six-hour commute between Joburg and Pretoria if we don’t solve the problem.

Coenie Vermaak, CEO of e-tolls collections company Electronic Toll Collection (ETC), was an e-tolls boycotter in his previous life as an engineer working on the Medupi Power Station and SA National Roads Agency (Sanral) roads.

Like 70% of Gauteng motorists, he believed the decision to impose electronic tolling was ill-conceived and done without proper public engagement. That changed when he was hired two years ago as CEO of ETC, owned 100% by Austrian company Kapsch.

“I was an e-tolls boycotter because I didn’t like being charged another tax for something that I had no decision over,” says Vermaak. “But I was also ignorant. I had not applied my mind to the matter. When I joined here, I didn’t even want my in-laws to know I worked at the toll collections company.”

ETC’s contract expires in December 2019, and will be put out to tender in the new year by Sanral.

E-tolls have become a political rod with which to beat the ANC government, and Vermaak concedes it is a tough ask convincing non-payers to follow his lead and abandon the boycott. With an election looming in 2019, e-tolls will become a key election issue in Gauteng, and opposition parties will feast on the entrails of this failed project. To underline the point, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) and the ANC in Gauteng staged a march against e-tolls last weekend in Pretoria.

In his medium-term budget policy speech last month, newly installed finance minister Tito Mboweni gave no sign of the government abandoning its fealty to e-tolls or the user-pays principle. He said e-tolls had to be paid if the road network was to function. The project originally cost R22.5 billion, funded through the issue of bonds, but that cost has now escalated to more than R40 billion. Sanral’s 2018 annual report shows a finance cost of R4.4 billion at an average cost of capital of 9.43% a year. If Mboweni sticks to his guns, it appears government will have little choice but to find an extra R500 million to R1 billion a year to pay the interest on these borrowings. Scrapping e-tolls could impact SA’s sovereign status and increase the cost of all government-backed borrowings.

Read: Bailouts for SAA, Sanral’s e-tolls and more

Just as the decision to build the loss-making King Shaka International Airport in Durban was a political decision, so government pushed Sanral to upgrade Gauteng’s roads ahead of the 2010 World Cup. It is now clear that government never anticipated the level of protest that would accompany the launch of e-tolls in 2013.

ETC is responsible for enforcing e-toll compliance, and has been issuing summonses at the rate of about 4 000 a month. By next month a total of roughly 18 000 summonses will have been issued. Outa reckons only a quarter of these are reaching the intended recipients, and of the 1 400 who have given notice of their intention to defend, 1 200 are being defended by Outa. The issue of summonses relies on the Department of Transport’s eNatis (electronic National Administration Traffic Information System), which is riddled with errors, hence only a fraction of summonses reach their intended destination.

Summonses are being issued as a last resort, says Vermaak, though how a critically backlogged justice system will cope with 18 000 additional cases remains to be seen. A test court case between Sanral and Outa on the legality of e-tolls has been talked about but appears to be going nowhere. This could drag out for years, hence a political solution must be found.

Read: Time is running out for e-tolls, yet the summons blitz kicks into high gear

Vermaak points to a road map of Gauteng and warns of the consequences of not solving the e-tolls issue: “People are already noticing the growing congestion on the highways. Unless we get busy with Phase Two of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP), which involves building 158 kilometres of new roads to redirect traffic away from the congestion areas, you better get prepared for a six-hour commute between Joburg and Pretoria. This is how long we project it will take by 2037 if we don’t address this problem urgently.”

Phase Two of the project should have been well underway by now, but has been indefinitely postponed due to the funding calamity resulting from Phase One and the e-tolls boycott. Phase Two involves building a new highway from Soshanguve in the north to Sandton, a new access road from Soweto to Joburg, the new PWV 15 route to the east to take pressure off the Gillooly’s interchange, and a ring road around the city. Phase Two would create between 12 000 and 16 000 much-needed jobs over a period of four to seven years.

Coenie Vermaak

Vermaak concedes that if we could wind back the clock, the e-tolls issue would have been tackled with far greater public engagement.

Outa CEO Wayne Duvenage says the problem is easily solved: convert the e-tolls roads to non-tolled roads and subsidise the GFIP bonds to the tune of R2 billion a year from Treasury. “Government grants come from Treasury’s pot, which is partially filled by an efficient and highly effective user-pays scheme called the fuel levy. This finance method accounts for 48% of Sanral’s billed revenue and is used to finance 86% of Sanral’s roads.”

Only 13% of Sanral’s roads are funded by tolls: state tolls account for 7.5% or 1 646 km of roads, generating 17% of revenue; concessionaire roads account for 6% or 1 288 km, generating almost nothing for Sanral. These figures are based on the last four financial years.

Source: Outa

Read: How Sanral is robbing Peter to pay Paul

“If Sanral had received the revenue it originally invoiced over the past four financial years, which is around R23.2 billion if one excludes reversed invoices, it would have generated 34% of revenue from 1% of its road network,” says Duvenage.

The prospect of abandoning e-tolls is unnerving for the 1 200 ETC staff in Centurion, though the centre could be repurposed as a highway monitoring and public transport system, says Vermaak. “Every road user has an account with us, and this could be adapted for any form of public transport system. The Department of Transport is looking at implementing transport corridors that will include subsidised transport, and this centre could be used to manage this. It is a world-class system and it would be a shame to see it die.”

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Existing roads were upgraded and made into toll roads, one has to use them, the alternatives were already at capacity during peak times and cannot carry the 4 times more volume if we moved from the new tolled roads.

They should have built the new roads first, and tolled them however much they want.

We didn’t land on the toll roads, the toll roads landed on us!

Mr Coenie Vermaak, the only reason your tune has changed is because of where you are getting your money, the application of mind story is false.

I have really applied my mind and realised it’s an unfair system from before it was even implemented. Some people can use sections of the GFIP with zero cost (just because they do not pass under a gantry). Sanral and ETC does not know about their trips and thus do not charge them. So much for user pays.

I live far away from Gauteng. Maybe somebody can explain why Gauteng roads should be exempt. When I drive the 160km on the toll road(there is no real alternative) to Durban I have to pay R68.50 toll one way. R137 return.I do so happily because the road is good. So how is that different from Gauteng. I have driven the Gauteng toll roads a few times and they are excellent roads.

N2 or N3? I’m sure that was a new road on a new route that was built some decades back. The old route that existed before the toll road was built should still be there, which is the untolled alternative (with all it’s traffic lights and whatever).

Between Pretoria and Polokwane that would be the R101, the N1 toll road was built much later. One can use the R101 for toll-less travel that will take more time.

Do you have to drive to Durban and back everyday?
I don’t need to use the highways to commute but some people are forced to and this was a 30 to 40 year old road network that had been neglected for years. Considering the taxes, vehicle licenses and fuel levy we already pay the Gauteng roads are no better than we deserve.
Actually when I drive down to Durban I use as little of the toll roads as I can get away with. Certain sections are not worth the bother even though Sanral puts up there black A on a yellow background and tries to trick you into thinking it’s a viable alternate route.

Because we make all the money here in Gauteng, that’s why!

The short answer is because no study was done into the best way to fund roads. Tolling was irrationally selected as the default choice and then implemented unlawfully.

Behind all the bluster and posturing, it’s actually very simple. There are physical tollgates on the other freeways. But in Gauteng it’s electronic, so people can get away with not playing, since they realise that the state has neither the capacity, nor the will to enforce payment.

Whatever the merits of etolls, they are a bellwether for South Africa’s future: if the state capitulates, it will be a signal to investors that it’s lost control of the middle class, and it that the culture of non-payment has taken root. In that case, put a fork in it, it’s done.

Yes you live far away and are not tolled every day going to work and back so maybe they should toll all towns as you enter and leave also in the middle so you cannot escape .Then your reaction might be different.All of us pay those etolls you love so keep on paying them.

Well, e-tolls is a taxation system. It’s inherently unfair; taxation systems always are. What matters is that it’s irrational and unlawful.

6 hour commute from Pretoria to Joburg?? Quit smoking the legal stuff! Scare tactics work when they are a bit believable. Not 6 hours FAKE NEWS

There aren’t nearly enough jobs to cause that kind of congestion. Not to mention that drivers will obviously move closer to work long before that happens.

This was Nazir Allis’ solution to e-tolls, “If you don’t want pay, move closer to your work”. So I’ve lived in my house for 30 odd years and I have to move because of Sanral?

30km at 5km/h means it is possible to walk from Jhb to Prt in 6 hours. So yes, this 6hour story is nonsense.

Joburg to Pretoria is not 30km

To Sanral:

Built your new roads, make all entry and exit points to the news roads e-tag enabled boom gates only, then you will earn your money, and no freeloaders in terms of usage and your billing.

Or else ask government to ring fence the fuel levy and give it to you. You will easily be able to fund building of a GFIP Phase 1 road network per year and still have half the money left for other things.

Whose side are you on.

The side of people who don’t want the country to degenerate? The culture of non-payment was supposed to end, not spread.

By 2037 the world’s oil resources will be near depleted. Assuming we all move to electric motors and Eskom remains the same or gets worse (likely)… South African’s won’t be using these roads..

e-Toll is an irrational, wasteful, corrupt (typical for the ANC, one should add) “solution” to a problem that any first year engineering or economics student would have been able to solve with ease. The answer is simple – it is called the f u e l l e v y

It seems they are threatening us the public and their breadwinners with blackmail. Either we pay up to a corrupt system, or they will have permanent work on the toll roads effectively blocking them. If that happens, then the government through the SOE’s would end up sabotaging the economy and the voters in order to enforce a system rejected by the people. I think it is time for the people to vote these corrupt thieves out of office. And as for Mr. Vermaak, it was fine to be part of the people before he joined the corrupt SANRAL organisation. He is now trying to protect his exorbitant salary which should be exposed. How much are you paid every month Mr. Vermaak to be the chameleon that you are?

Is it corrupt? It went to court and passed scrutiny multiple times.

If the DA won the elections, would you pay etolls? The fact is that people know the government can’t enforce, so they won’t pay. It’s that simple.

The DA is as inept and rotten as the ANC.

This is odd, because at a presentation I gave at the CSIR in August, Coenie was a fellow panellist and he agreed that e-tolls had failed. He struck me as an intelligent and thoughtful man, so I think his flogging of this dead horse is just PR.

By 2037, road congestion should be a moot point. I would hope that by then Gauteng would have an effective public transport system that has weaned us off our addiction to single-occupant motoring. But alas, instead of focusing on this goal, there is now talk of extending Gautrain, which is utter madness. The cost-per-commuter of Gautrain is so high that Gautrans has to subsidise it with R2.4bn of taxpayers’ money per annum. Imagine what the subsidy would be if we tripled the size of the system! The annual subsidy alone would be able to build a commuter bus network for a city the size of Tshwane.

Gautrain is a rich man’s toy. Low-speed rail and commuter buses provide inexpensive, effective public transport in much of the world. Unfortunately, we have engineers playing poacher and gamekeeper, building their legacies with public money. Between Jack van der Merwe and Nazir Alli, taxpayers have been saddled with a R150bn bill which is just not serviceable. Maybe we should let transport decisions be made by the accountants after all.

Even a crow can learn to sing for it’s supper.

Isn’t Coenie Vermaak trying to play “good cop – bad cop” all on his own. “I was a rebel but now I’ve seen the light”?
18,000 summonses doesn’t sound like that much considering e-toll billing will be 5 years old next month but that’s definitely 18,000 votes the ANC will have lost for 2019.

we don’t need more roads. More roads means that people will drive more. I’d rather we build alternatives to more roads. Rather better infrastructure for buses, trains, cycling, and pedestrians. Then improve the policing of poor driving.

Less driving means better lifestyles, healthier, less pollution, less urban sprawl, less death by poor driving. Rather this than doubling highways so people can commute 50km+ to work.

It sounds like Coenie Vermaak realises that ETC needs a brand new business strategy if it wants to survive past end next year. Making profits out of e tolling does not sound like one of their strengths. So, yes, repurpose the company asap – it is a matter of ‘adapt or die’. ETC seriously needs a new ‘vision and mision’.

“Coenie Vermaak warns that you better prepare for a six-hour commute”; Tito totes the opinion that:”If we want a road transport infrastructure that works, we need to pay our tolls.” Demands and threats from all sides, private and public. The beginnings of a totalitarian government, demanding we pay more or face the wrath of the ANC! Yet the crooks loot unabated Eskom, Denel, SAA, Transnet, SABC, Department of Water and Sanitation, Bakgatla Ba Kgafela Trust, VBS….no corrupt opportunity left unexploited, and SOE’s constantly requiring Government bailouts in the billions, yet they remain in government, they remain at the helm of creating the problems and then telling the people its either their fault or the fault of WMC!It feels like I’m taking crazy pills! If we continue to elect these self-serving charlatans, we deserve what we will get! A new president of the ANC is not a new dawn, or a new party, or a new anything, just a new person at the helm of the same old mob, doing what the mob does. Let me not be totally one sided – sure, the ANC has done some good along the way, but then again, Auschwitz also fed people, clothed them and gave them shelter…..for a while…. Is that enough to overlook the gross violations that also took place there?

It’s worth checking out the @etollFacts account on Twitter. It seemingly performs a PR mandate for ETC. It claims to be “confident” of changing Gauteng motorists’ minds on e-tolls. All it’s really doing, though, is hardening attitudes.

They’d have more luck convincing Zuma to admit guilt.

Once upon a time there was no e-tolls and there was peace.

You mean when segregation was in full effect and only white people had infrastructure. Wow, what a comment.

I’m pretty sure segregation had been abolished by 3 December 2013.

Vermaak seems to be one of those canker blossoms who subscribes to the notion that if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with BS.

Walter Pike’s handler.

Champagne socialism is the best kind of socialism.

Why not speak with the Automobile Association of South Africa and require that no new or second hand vehicle can be bought or sold by individuals who have not paid up their e-toll account? You cannot buy a TV without a TV licence right? it could be an effective way to enforce compliance? Just a suggestion

Here’s a thought that hasn’t even been addressed: a lot of people can’t afford the etolls.

Fact is that some of us are struggling to keep our heads above water on a monthly basis. The extra 4-500 rands a month spent on tolling is money that many of us simply don’t have.

What’s to become of the people that can’t afford it? Must they just disappear?

Sure, there are other ways through urban areas to get to destinations.

But that’s problem #2. Etolls are by design meant to shift traffic off the highways and into other roads. That’s simply creating another problem elsewhere, like tipping your rubbish into the neighbour’s yard when he’s not looking.

Quite simply, not only were etolls illegally implemented, but they are also designed to be cruel and callous by default.

One realises that the ANC needs the kickbacks to fund its 2019 election campaign, but that is MORE reason not to pay.

Gauteng is not a PATCH……. comparing to the Cape Town madness!!! a couple of years in the 80’s and 90’s we request CofCT to construct a rail system on top of the N1 from the Northern Suburbs into the city and the same can apply for the west coast from the R27 into the City…..ai aia ai yea yea – where’s the days of the WORKING & safe RAIL Systems into our cities??…. – nowadays DESTRUCTION is the NEW CONSTRUCTION apps……too many vehicles…. TOO LITTLE Road surfaces!!! …..enjoy the next 100 years of travelling into and out of our cities!!!

Simple really. You couldn’t get any kickbacks in just adding a few meager cents to the current fuel levy to fund this piece of highway (read piece of something else), so you implement an elaborate system (read scheme) that enables you to grease some politician hands (known fact) and your own in the process (known fact). This is why NO ONE should pay for E-Tolls. We are already funding a pandemic of crime and corruption with a VAT increase, a massive additional fuel levy tax, increases in electricity, increases in property taxes, increases in water bills, major increases in property transfer taxes etc, etc. Enough is enough. Those gantries should be smashed to the ground and the remains burned. Rather erect a statue across the highway that reminds us that tax payers should not fit the bill for rampant theft by criminals acting as public servants. E-Tolls can go to hell !!!!!!!

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