The South African Automobile Association (AA) says it is concerned that the provincial government’s subsidy for the Gautrain has reached R1.5bn‚ which could have been better used to fund roads‚ following an announcement of this allocation by MEC for roads and transport Ismail Vadi this week. According to the AA‚ R1.5bn could cover the annual payback costs for the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project (GFIP)‚ “if one excluded the cost of the tolling infrastructure and the inflated costs arising from tender collusion on the project”.
The Gautrain now accounts for almost a quarter of the provincial department of road and transport’s budget‚ the AA said. The Gauteng government pays patronage guarantees to Bombela Concession Company‚ which designed‚ built and operates the Gautrain. The guarantees are calculated on the basis of the number of commuters who travel on the Gautrain. In the event that these guaranteed numbers are not reached‚ the provincial government has to compensate Bombela for the difference.
Last year‚ the provincial government paid Bombela R1.03bn in patronage guarantees‚ up from 2013’s figure of R830m. Transport analysts said the patronage guarantees were at their lowest (meaning a high number of passengers were using the Gautrain) in the middle of last year‚ due to the implementation of e-tolls.
But passenger numbers dropped early this year as commuters drifted back to using their cars‚ when “it became clear that there was no effective enforcement of e-tolls”. Approximately 60‚000 people a day use the Gautrain‚ which connects Pretoria with Johannesburg and provides a rail service to OR Tambo airport. According to the AA‚ millions of commuter trips are made on Gauteng’s freeways every day and these roads “remain the arteries of the province”.
“The Gautrain’s fares make it clear that it is a transport mode for higher earners. It is unjust for taxpayers’ money to be diverted from the transport budget to subsidise these commuters‚” the AA said. The organisation said the cost of installing and managing the tolling infrastructure substantially increased the cost of the GFIP and the government claimed that tolling was chosen as a funding model because there was no money available elsewhere. The AA said the government’s selective reliance on the so-called “user-pay” argument for roads was not sustainable.
“The scale of the Gautrain subsidy demonstrates that this is not true. The R1.5bn which is being used to subsidise a minority of Gautrain commuters would have been better used to fund the roads which benefit all citizens in Gauteng province and the country‚” said the AA. “The government’s own review of state-owned entities‚ published in October 2013‚ found that there should be less reliance on user-pay funding for social infrastructure like roads. “And if the user-pay principle is to be applied‚ it should be applied equally; we see no reason for the Gautrain to be exempt. We remain of the opinion that taxation is the most cost-effective way to fund transport infrastructure‚” it concluded.