South Africa’s main commercial hub is considering tapping alternative sources of revenue to pay for its freeways as it prepares to halt electronic tolling that has faced opposition from motorists since its inception almost nine years ago.
“Whatever model we will use, tolling is not one of them,” Panyaza Lesufi, the premier of the Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria, the capital, told reporters on Friday.
The province is considering selling land, asking the national government to increase its maintenance grant, and utilizing so-called sin taxes and motor license fees to pay for the roads, but the education, health and crime-fighting budgets won’t be compromised, he said.
The state-owned South African National Roads Agency SOC Ltd., which operates the freeways and has been driven to the brink of bankruptcy by non-payment of the tolls, was allocated R23.7 billion in the National Treasury’s budget update last month to shore up its finances. Outstanding debts from the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project stood at R43 billion at the end of March.
The tolling system has been a sticking point between the national government and provincial authorities for years.
On Thursday, the National Treasury said in a statement that the Gauteng administration would cover 30% of Sanral’s debt and the national government the balance.
The province will also have to pay the interest incurred on the freeway project and fund its maintenance, it said.
The Gauteng government wants clarity on these issues and will be meeting the national finance and transport ministers to iron them out, according to Lesufi.
The provincial administration wants to stagger its repayment of Sanral’s debt over 20 years or more, and will work with the national government to develop a roadmap “that will finally end this undesirable program of e-tolls in Gauteng,” he said.
A date for the scrapping of the tolls will be given once the meetings have been concluded and the people of Gauteng have been consulted, Lesufi said.
While the Treasury said in Thursday’s statement that “direct road-user charges are the most effective, equitable and efficient way to finance road infrastructure” it gave the province the option to continue imposing the tolls or scrap them if it could come up with other revenue sources.