Sanral’s transport economist, Dr Roelof Botha, raised the ire of e-tolling panellists yesterday when he said Gauteng residents who use public transport should “shut up”.
Botha said they should refrain from entering the debate on e-tolling because they paid neither income tax nor e-tolls as they used transport which was exempt from the system. “So, if you are in the bottom income quota and using public transport then you should not actually participate in the debate. You should actually shut up and not participate,” said Botha.
With e-tolling expected to be rolled out countrywide, Botha’s outburst effectively aimed to silence millions of workers from debating policies, which have a major impact on their lives. According to the 2013 National Household Travel Survey, 3.7million workers used taxis to get to work while a further 1million travelled on buses.
Botha justified his outburst by stating that 94% of the cost of e-tolls would be paid by the highest earning income group. Panellist and lawyer John Ngcebetsha took Botha to task. He interrupted the economist’s presentation, prompting Sanral CEO Nazir Alli to spring to Botha’s defence.
“I don’t think we have an issue with the content of your submissions. The issue is when you want to prescribe who should or should not take part in the debate,” said Ngcebetsha. Botha said the road commuter “pain index has been reduced significantly” and that Sanral deserved a medal for its work.
In previous presentations to the panel, groups have argued that e-tolling will lead to a rise in the cost of food. Freight companies using tolled freeways will pass e-toll costs on to customers. But this aspect was missing from Botha’s submissions – made on behalf of the South African National Roads Agency.
Economist Keith Lockwood told the panel that a higher fuel levy would harm the poor because it would increase the cost of public transport. The advisory panel assessing the impact of electronic tolling on Gauteng freeways will hand over its report to Premier David Makhura in 10 days.
The report will contain recommendations on whether to retain the system or to scrap e-tolls in favour of an increased fuel levy. Arriving at any decision will be difficult, panel chairman Professor Muxe Nkondo admitted yesterday.
The difficulty, Nkondo said, was reconciling the two distinct submissions that had been made. He noted the positive tone of Sanral towards e-tolling against disapproval by other groups.