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Anti-tolling body slams Sanral claims

Sanral says launching e-tolling is merely part of implementing government policy.

FILE: A motorist uses the N12 highway, a proposed toll road in Johannesburg on Thursday, 15 November 2012. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA.

JOHANNESBURG - The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) has described claims made by the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) as "absurd and misleading".

Outa was responding to assertions by Sanral that its role was not to win the hearts and minds of South Africans but to implement policy created by government.

It said Sanral had never been ready to launch e-tolling.

However, the agency's Alex van Niekerk said everything was in place.

"All of that has been tested and we do have the sufficient capacity to handle it. The legal process that follows is a longer process but we have planned for the different scenarios so we can handle the volumes."

At a roundtable meeting with journalists on Wednesday morning, the roads agency stressed the fact that tolled roads form only a fraction of its business, meaning problems in that area were not consuming the company as a whole.

"We hope that with continued conversation, persuasion and debate South Africans will eventually come around to it," said Sanral spokesperson Vusi Mona.

However, Outa said Sanral acted as a crucial adviser to government over e-tolling research and motivated for the project.

FINANCIAL TROUBLE?

Sanral also moved to dampen fears that it was financially in ruins in light of low e-tag sales and several delays in rolling out its e-tolling project.

While it admitted that e-tag sales were "extremely slow" and it was struggling to pay back its R1.5 billion debt to investors, the company insisted that it was not broke.

Speaking on Talk Radio 702 on Wednesday, Sanral's Chief Financial Officer Inge Mulder admitted that paying back the debt would be a difficult task.

Sanral is now turning to banks to lend it money in the short-term, which it plans to pay off as soon as it can begin issuing bonds again.

At the meeting earlier in the day, van Niekerk said he didn't have exact figures of e-tag sales, but believed more than 600,000 devices had been sold.

He said if e-tolling were to launch immediately, it could handle the flow of transactions and chase motorists who don't pay.

Van Niekerk also said the agency could fight off the legal challenge by Outa against the multi-billion rand project.

The agency needs to pay off the R1.5 billion debt by 31 October.

WAITING ON ZUMA

Sanral spokesperson Vusi Mona said e-tolling would launch as soon as President Jacob Zuma signed a necessary bill into law.

Mona said the timeframes given were merely timelines and were always subject to change.

"Timelines are timelines and they do change. What's not in dispute is this is government policy. Parliament has passed the bill and Sanral has to implement it."

There's still no clarity on when the multi-billion rand project will start.

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