Finance minister Pravin Gordhan has moved to calm the controversy over electronic tolls on Gauteng’s upgraded highways, saying monthly fees will be capped at a maximum R550/month.
Gordhan says the fees, which will be imposed from 30 April, will also be reduced to 30c/km rather than the proposed 60c.
There will be a 15% discount after users have incurred a charge of R400 in a given month “to remove uncertainty and provide relief to frequent users”.
Heavy vehicles will also be eligible for a 20% discount on tolls if they use the roads during certain hours of the day when traffic is lighter.
Gordhan says a special R5,8bn “appropriation” has been included in the 2011/12 budget to reduce the toll burden on Gauteng consumers.
“I am mindful that the introduction of tolling to finance the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Programme has caused considerable public reaction,” Gordhan says. “We have listened carefully to the various suggestions and appreciate the difficulties that might be faced.”
The total debt associated with the project was R20bn, but that will be reduced to R14,2bn in light of the appropriation. This is intended to reduce the debt to be repaid through the toll system, thus making it possible to reduce the proposed fees for road users.
Gordhan says it is important to remember that road-user charges also serve an “important demand management function” on roads that are heavily congested, and that road users should remember the benefits the new freeways offer, including lower vehicle operating costs, time saved and improved safety.
He adds that the additional revenue the toll roads will generate will allow for improved maintenance of regional and provincial roads.
“Government will carefully evaluate future road infrastructure funding. In addition, the further development of efficient and cost-effective public transport systems will receive the urgent attention of the department of transport,” says Gordhan. — Craig Wilson, TechCentral, with Sapa
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