Picture: SOWETAN
Picture: SOWETAN

MOTORISTS who fail to pay e-tolls can expect to be stopped by Gauteng’s traffic police within months when "on-road enforcement" is introduced.

Jamie Surkont, CEO of Electronic Toll Collection (ETC), the firm that runs the South African National Roads Agency’s (Sanral) Gauteng e-toll system, said in an interview on Friday that on-road enforcement was a precursor to prosecution.

On-road enforcement has been labelled illegal by nongovernmental organisation Justice Project South Africa, and others. Sanral has said it would use the Criminal Procedure Act, which provides for court prosecutions, to enforce payment of e-tolls. But this will overwhelm the system.

The agency is more likely to coerce motorists to register for an e-tag, which gives it a database with information that it can rely on. Its recent offer to exempt new registrations from paying its higher "alternative" tariff, illustrates this.

Sanral spokesman Vusi Mona has previously ruled out roadblocks to force motorists to buy e-tags. No organisation, including Sanral, could force road users to obtain an e-tag.

Mr Surkont said that the campaign, which would be run by the Gauteng department for community safety, was more of a "customer services" exercise.

ETC would use it to capture the details of motorists that its gantries had picked up, but had been unable to identify. Traffic police would attempt to update their details, while checking for duplicated licence plate numbers or motorists driving without licence plates or disks.

He said police officers would be trained before this was introduced.

In January, Justice Project said invoices from ETC made mention of on-road enforcement, for the first time. It said an ETC letter to a motorist stated: "Failure to make payment will result in you being identified as a nonpayer and will be stopped by the Toll Road Enforcement Unit."

The organisation said at the time that stopping a motorist prior to the existence of a warrant of arrest was tantamount to wrongful arrest.

Sanral was obliged to use the government’s e-Natis database to contact motorists. But Mr Surkont said the database was outdated, which meant that invoices were sometimes sent to the incorrect person.

The prospect of on-road enforcement comes after angry reactions to Sanral’s planned introduction of e-tag payment lanes at toll plazas in KwaZulu-Natal. The agency has embarked upon a national toll of e-tolls. Toll plazas on the Bakwena toll road already have a dedicated lane for holders of an e-tag, and this will be extended to other parts of South Africa.

Sanral has maintained that normal manual-payment lanes will remain. Its e-tag lanes, it said, was an additional payment method that motorists could choose to adopt.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions last week blamed e-tolls for the 11% drop in the African National Congress’s support at this month’s election.