DESPITE some political parties and labour organisations' opposition to Gauteng's e-tolling system, the government is adamant that its implementation will kick off on April 30.
The government's position is clear: we cannot have sustainable competitive road infrastructure networks without being able to find ways to fund their construction and maintenance. Effective transportation systems play strategic roles in making sure goods and services are transported in a way that keeps the economy active and running.
Despite that, we cannot expect the government to fund infrastructure development without contributions from the people and businesses that use the road networks. Considering the huge volumes of traffic - more than 3000 vehicles an hour - that travel between Johannesburg and Pretoria every day, we could not manage without four to five lanes on both sides of the M1 motorway and the R21.
A protest by the Congress of the South African Trade Union (Cosatu) against e-tolling looms this week, while the Democratic Alliance (DA) last week joined other companies that are challenging the tolling system in a court bid to stop its implementation. The Southern African Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association's Wayne Duve nage said they were busy formulating their case. The Automobile Association's (AA's) Gary Ronald said they were now also part of the legal challenge.
This is a tug-of-war against a scheme that will benefit and stimulate economic development in Gauteng, which is the hub of SA's economy. Gauteng must create jobs and empower people.
Most people who will join Cosatu's march are not private car-owners who are on the freeways every day - they use public transport: taxis, buses and trains, which are exempt from e-tolling.
Will the march have any bearing on the issues that affect ordinary people?
Surely Cosatu, the DA and the AA cannot argue they are not able to fork out 30c per gantry on the tolled freeways.
As much as we expect the government to come to our rescue, let us also try to understand that governments more often than not run out of financial resources.
Infrastructure development has brought economies down simply because people leave it to the government to run and finance infrastructure projects. On the other hand, the government is in a Catch-22 situation. Most people are worried about having enough food to feed their families and to travel to work and other places and to make sure their kids attend school.
These are expenses that most people must pay and, at the same time, high fuel prices will be with us for some time.
But as the e-tolling battles rages on, we also need to take into account the broader effects on the economy. Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan's injection of R5,8bn into the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) was a step in the right direction and this step should be supported - it has already had an effect in that the new e-toll price will be 30c per gantry.
Moody's has already downgraded Sanral from A3 to Baa1 with a negative outlook. Sanral's downgrade erodes SA's credibility among international investors. It also raises the cost to Sanral of raising capital. Moody's also noted the delay in the registration of vehicles for e-tags, saying the e-tolling revenue is essential to service the debt and absorb operating costs.
Econometrix economist Tony Twine says Sanral's downgrade implies that Sanral will have to fund further expansion projects out of income. Where will Sanral get the resources to service its debt? As the e-tolling system is set to commence on April 30, motorists need to understand why it is necessary and important to pay for using the tolled distances on the freeways.
First, e-tolling results in safer road networks, reduces congestion and travelling times, and is a mechanism to fund our road infrastructure maintenance and construction. Despite the R5,8bn injection to Sanral's budget to ease the burden on motorists, some sectors of our society think e-tolling is there to milk motorists and many people are still not convinced that they need to pay for the maintenance of our freeways.
E-tolling has more advantages than disadvantages. Toll roads ensure a high-quality road network.
In addition to contributing to improved road safety, toll roads generally reduce travelling distances and result in substantial savings on the running costs of your vehicle and much-valued travel time. The "user-pays" principle represents a fair and precise way of paying for transport facilities. Tolls link the benefits for the road user with its fees by charging users in direct relationship to how much of the road they use. Court cases and protest actions against e-tolling will lead only to millions of rands lost in the courts and in absences from work, affecting the very economy we need to develop.
. Gozhi works for the Department of Transport.