OPINION: The people of Gauteng just don't like e-tolls

It's not exactly a universal secret that the issue of e-tolls has been the cause of much outrage and consternation. There were public hearings, there was a court case, there have been reviews, go-slows, protests and political disagreements. Yet, despite all of this, they are still a reality and motorists in the province have to pay to use the freeways.

In May, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa rolled out and announced a new 'dispensation' of legislation that would be applied to e-tolls. He waved a carrot, offering reduced rates, and then hit us with the stick, saying that the toll payment structure would be linked to car licence renewals. The people were livid. But the message was clear - we'll reduce the rates but there is no question that you are still going to have to pay.

However, an Eyewitness News exclusive story this week has revealed that the carrot that Ramaphosa offered motorists is not that sweet after all. In fact, it's rather rotten. Registered e-tag users who benefited from a time-of-day discount during off-peak hours are now actually paying more since the new dispensation came into effect last week. Government and Sanral had absolutely undertaken that compliant users would not end up forking out more under the new laws, yet that is exactly what is now happening. Because the time-of-day discount is being applied to a lowered standard tariff across the board, the discount is smaller and so the total at the end of the day is higher.

It's really just simple mathematics.

Compliant, law-abiding users are being rewarded with higher tariffs under the new pricing structure and this flies in the face of everything that government and Ramaphosa promised.

Sanral is describing this oversight as an 'unintended consequence' of the new tariffs. The benevolent amongst us would call it a mathematical quirk. The cynical might refer to it as a sneaky move by government to ensure those who are paying are coughing up for those who refuse to. It is, of course, possible that the guys responsible for putting together the numbers just didn't do the maths properly and stuffed it up.

Whatever the true reason, all this latest hash has achieved is to further entrench the public belief that motorists shouldn't bother to pay e-tolls and that public disobedience will achieve far more than obeying the law in this instance. The overwhelming response to news of this development has been, 'Well, serves those who bought e-tags right!' or 'Zero percent of R0 is nothing and that's what I'm paying'.

When government and the roads agency display such administrative defunctness, it only serves to bolster the belief that they are not worthy recipients of e-toll funds. This is compounded by the litany of examples of backlogs and wrong bills and inaccurate accounts.

Only once it is evident to the public that Sanral has its house in order, will motorists begin to be convinced that they should begin to consider paying for e-tolls. Until then, they can expect more outrage and disobedience.

Mandy Wiener is a freelance journalist and author working for Eyewitness News . Follow her on Twitter: @mandywiener