DOCUMENTS

The case against Gauteng tolls - COSATU

Federation says system will have a negative impact on workers and the poor

COSATU submission to Gauteng public hearing on highway toll-gates, delivered by COSATU Gauteng Provincial Secretary, Dumisani Dakile, Johannesburg City Hall, November  11 2011

INTRODUCTION

The Congress of South African trade unions welcomes this opportunity, presented by the Gauteng Petitions Standing Committee, to present our views as progressive and revolutionary workers of Gauteng on the Gauteng highway tollgates. We are hoping that this process will not just be a mere talk show but a qualitative process that will assist us to deal with this monster which will affect all of us in the province and in particular the working class and the poor.

Background

As COSATU we have been calling and continue to call for an integrated, safe, reliable and affordable public transport system for the country. The attainment of this requires investment in the transport infrastructure. The apartheid legacy and its spatial development in particular have left the majority of the working people and their families without a good public transport system. The mandate of the democratic state was to ensure that this legacy of apartheid is addressed as part of its programme to advance and develop our country and our people in particular.

Unfortunately, the democratic government in the early years of our democracy opted for market solutions to the public transport problems in the country. One of the first sign in government's faith in market solutions was the establishment of the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) within the Department of Transport. Sanral was formed in 1998 as a company operating along commercial lines with the mandate to "maintain and develop South Africa's national road network". To achieve this mandate of maintaining and developing South Africa's national road network, Sanral has seen privatisation as one of its key strategies.

The strategy of Sanral entails concessioning some sections of the nation's road network to private companies and setting up toll gates on major national roads. About 1288km of the tolled sections of the national roads have been concessioned for a period of 30 years, to the Bakwena Platinum Corridor Concessionaire, N3 Toll Concession and Trans African Concessionaires.

These private companies own the Pretoria-Bela-Bela portion of the N1 and Pretoria-Botswana border portion of the N4; Heidelberg-Cedara portion of N3; and Gauteng-Port of Maputo portion of the N4 (the Maputo Development Corridor), respectively.

There are currently more than 50 toll gates in the country and SANRAL continues to build more and in the process makes it costly for millions of South Africans, working people in particular, to travel to work and visit their relatives.

To rub salt in the wound, Sanral has turned more of the Gauteng Province's major roads into toll roads through a new, high-tech system, called "Open Road Tolling".

The introduction of the toll-gates was never ever consulted with the people of the province and with us as workers in particular. The process has been done behind closed doors without any transparency and consideration of the people that such a system will affect.

Open road tolling: A modernised privatisation of the nation's roads

Instead of addressing the public transport challenges, Sanral, has decided to introduce the Open Road Tolling System (ORTS) at a cost of R20bn. No workers will be employed to collect the tariffs as with the majority of toll points currently. With this system Sanral aims to raise funding for maintenance of highways and to force people to use their private cars less and public transport more.

The ORTS is part of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP). The next target province for the ORTS is said to be Kwazulu-Natal (KZN).

According to Sanral's website, the GIFP was approved by cabinet in 2007. Sanral claims that the members of the public were given the opportunity to comment on the project, particularly the proposed toll points and expected toll tariffs. Informed by public comments, the Minister of Transport declared certain road sections as toll roads, with a total of 42 toll points (gantries), which according to Sanral, "allow for the toll fees to be contributed fairly by all those that use the road". There are no physical toll booths as overhead gantries are fitted with equipment that recognise the electronic "e-tag" in vehicle, with fees deducted from road user accounts.

According to Sanral, the following are the benefits of tolling:

  • Delivers the much needed infrastructure sooner than later
  • Ensures dedicated funding for maintenance of the road
  • Ensures a high quality road network and generally reduce travelling distances and result in substantial savings on the running costs of your vehicle and much valued travel time
  • The user-pay principle represents a fair way of paying for transport facilities
  • It links the benefits for the road user with its fees by charging users only in direct relationship to how much of the road they use
  • Furthermore, Sanral argues that the GFIP creates links with other transport modes (the Gautrain, Metrorail, and Bus Rapid Transit) "to provide citizens with the choice of using public transportation or car-pooling that will alleviate congestion caused by single-passenger vehicles".

COSATU views this as a skewed approach in addressing the challenges around the transport infrastructure. In our view, the failure to invest in a safe, reliable, integrated and affordable public transport system has resulted in massive congestion on major roads due to proliferation of minibuses, freight transport and private vehicles. In those towns where there is still rail transport, trains are unreliable, unsafe and result in workers arriving late at work, thus losing part of their pay and in many cases, their jobs.

Socioeconomic impact

The central objective of all government programmes is the creation of decent work. The 2009 elections manifesto of the ANC and the 2011 State of the Nation Address, among many other programmes, make this point very clear.

So how is Sanral contributing to this important national objective?

Sanral argues that "congestion impacts on economic growth potential, loss of business opportunity, and increase road user costs". Not addressing the congestion experienced on the freeway is simply not an option. So it justifies the ORTS because "its benefits outweigh the costs and there is acceptable rate of return on investment".

Sanral also says the Economic Impact Study had been done by the University of Cape Town and found that ORTS would result in high economic rate of return. Furthermore, at the peak of construction, about 20 000 people were employed on GFIP.

The reality is that transport is the lifeblood of commerce and industry. Accordingly, an increase in transport costs tends to have a knock-on-effect on the economy as a whole. Already the industry has indicated it will be impacted negatively by the open tolling system.

Employment 

We know from experience that workers would be the victims of retrenchments if firms see their profit margins impacted negatively. A number of companies have already indicated that if the system goes ahead as planned they will retrench workers.

This would compound the already bleak employment situation in the country. In the third quarter of 2011 the rate of unemployment was 25%. If the discouraged work-seekers are taken into account the rate of unemployment is 36%. More than 2 million workers have lost hope of ever finding a job. This is a crisis which would be made worse by the ORTS. The system will make it even difficult for the more than 4 million to go out and look for jobs. The country is therefore bound to see more and more workers discouraged to look for jobs. Already, the number of discouraged workers has increased by a massive 20% on an annualised basis.

Impact to the secondary roads

We are aware that the majority of South Africans, if the sentiments expressed at public hearings on this system are anything to go by, are opposed to this ORTS. These include even those people who are supposed to enforce the system. Some municipalities have already expressed concern that the system will have a negative impact on the municipalities' road infrastructure due to diversion of traffic, result in administration burden and increase air pollution.

COSATU shares the concern that the system will move traffic congestion from highways to municipal roads; which many of them are already in a bad state. This may result in municipalities increasing other tariffs in order to get funding to maintain municipal road infrastructure. In the context of high levels of unemployment, this would be disastrous.

Increase to taxi fares and buses

We acknowledge that the system has been amended to exempt taxis and buses that are regarded as part of the public transport system. The reality is that the toll-gates will increase the cost of transport as a result of the cost of transport goods are used by the taxis and buses such as spares, fuel and other related matters. In our view exemption of the taxis and buses as currently resolved does not address this impact. Ultimately, the commuter will be forced to pay for these additional costs.

The current cost of the petrol will further increase the cost of public transport as the taxi associations have already indicated that they will increase their prices before the end of the year.

Increase to basic food stuff and other related goods

The current economic crisis taking place in the Euro-zones is going to have serious economic impact to our cost of living in the country and the province. The continuation of the toll-gates will further deepen the situation. The cost of transporting food and other basic goods will increase as a result of these toll gates and business people will pass such increases to the consumers and consequently the poor and the working class will be impacted negatively by such.

Impact on small business

Our provincial government strategy to encourage and build small and medium business will be reversed as the cost of doing business in the province will be high due to the increase of the cost of transport system as a result of the toll-gates. The impact of such to such small business has not been taken into account by the authorities. The introduction of the toll-gates will result in many small and medium businesses closing done and consequently many jobs being lost in the province.

Impact to the Cost of doing Business

We are in the process of attracting business to the province and one of the factors that is considered is the cost of doing business. There is no doubt in our mind that the toll-gates will have a negative impact to the cost of doing business in the province; hence we should resist the introduction of tollgates in the province. 

Rejection of the Gauteng Toll Roads Bill (2003) by Gauteng Legislature

In our view the Gauteng legislature had on several occasion considered the strategy and its implication to the province and rejected the Gauteng Toll Bill in 2003 as it came to the conclusion that such a move will be disastrous for the province and issues considered by the legislature by then which caused them to reject such a bill are still as relevant as ever and the same as today. We are of the view that such was correct and informed by the needs of the province and its people.

Transfer of the Albertina Sisulu Highway

We have noted with serious concern that the former Premier of the Province, who is currently in the political wilderness, had entered into agreement to transfer R21 to Sanral and such was also done without any consultation with the people of Gauteng.

It is very clear also from the submission by the Department of Roads and Transport that such a process was never done in consultation with the public and also with organised labour on matters of such importance.  

Our demands

The ORTS is aimed at consolidating privatisation of the nation's road network and thus making it only possible for those who can afford to pay to use them. The system will have a negative impact on the workers and the poor. It will result in job losses and possibly an increase in municipal tariffs for basic services. COSATU therefore rejects the ORTS.

COSATU demands proper consultation at Nedlac on the solution to the problems around the road infrastructure. The discussion must centre around the provision of an integrated, reliable and safe public transport system.

COSATU further calls for an immediate stop on further privatisation in the transport sector. We call for more investment in the rail transport infrastructure. If there was meaningful investment in the rail transport infrastructure, the damage to the road network caused (and now solved through privatisation in the form of ORTS) by road freight would be minimal.

COSATU further calls for the disbandment of the Sanral as it implementing the privatisation of our roads.

COSATU further calls for the declaration of all those companies and their directors who have benefited in the construction of the toll-gates and the ever escalating cost of this project to be made public and transparent.

Transport is one of the key elements for any economic growth and development in our country and in particular the South African economy.

Our current transport system challenges should be understood within the historic developments in our country as it has not escape the colonial and apartheid spatial development and neo-liberal policy called growth and economic and redistributive strategy which has liberalised and curtail the involvement of the state in the transport system therefore our demands should be understood within the context of transforming the apartheid and capitalist economic architecture. 

The toll-gates scandal needs to be located within the context of the campaign for a free, safe and reliable public transport system.

We need to indicate that as the federation will fight till our last breath against the introduction of these toll-gates as they will negatively impact to the working class and the poor in our province.

Statement issued by Patrick Craven, COSATU national spokesperson, November 11 2011

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