An e-toll gantry in Gauteng. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/SIMON MATHEUBLA
An e-toll gantry in Gauteng. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/SIMON MATHEUBLA

The debate over Gauteng e-tolls has been given fresh impetus by remarks last week by finance minister Tito Mboweni and Gauteng premier David Makhura.

In his medium-term budget policy statement on October 24,  Mboweni made his view quite clear: “If we want a road transport infrastructure that works, we need to pay our tolls.”

In a vigorous response the following day, Makhura referred to the decision reached in July at the elective conference of the Gauteng ANC:  “Let there be no confusion, they [e-tolls] are not part of the future of this province.”

Scant research seems to have been done into the reasons Gauteng road users are so antagonistic towards e-tolls. The most commonly expressed view is that “the roads have already been paid for through taxes and fuel levies”, with a feeling that “we should not be asked to pay to use something that has always been free at the time of use”.

It seems probable that the underlying reason is the inescapable need to move around the province, especially to get to and from work. This, as Gauteng residents see it, incurs enough costs without the additional one of paying for the use of the road.

One alternative should be that of public transport. Many commuters use one mode or another, especially minibus taxis. Users of public transport generally lack the option of a private car, and the services offered are rarely of a standard to attract the car user.

It was proposed in the strategy proposed that by 2020 there should be in existence ‘… a system that places over 85% of a metropolitan city’s population within 1km of an integrated rapid public transport network trunk (road and rail) or feeder (road) corridor’. 

This should not be the case. In 2007 the cabinet approved a public transport strategy: “Integrated rapid public transport service networks in the larger cities … will be able to provide a mobility solution that is attractive to all — both current public transport users, as well as current car users.”

It was proposed that by 2020 there should be “a system that places over 85% of a metropolitan city’s population within 1km of an integrated rapid public transport network trunk (road and rail) or feeder (road) corridor”.

Yet we are almost in 2019, just a year away from that target date, and there is little sign of a Gauteng public transport network of the kind envisaged in the strategy. Even if these ideals were to be realised, the problems of the peak hour would not be resolved. The Gautrain is about to increase the number of rail cars on its system by 50% — simply to meet the peak demand.

The need is to find ways in which peak demand, whether for private or public transport, can be drastically reduced. The opportunity is offered by the fourth industrial revolution.

Writing in the Sunday Times in June 2017 (“Can the state save us as jobs run out?”), Peter Bruce recounted a discussion he had had with a friend: “He reminded me that a mutual acquaintance had just opened a R500m factory in Gauteng that is so automated it will employ just five people.”

The irony is that most of them travel these long distances to sit at a desk with a PC — one that could easily be located much closer to home.

This will be the future of manual work. However,  most Gauteng peak-hour road users are not manual workers. They are office workers who pour out of Pretoria in their tens of thousands every morning en route to offices in Sandton and Rosebank, and make the return journey in the evening peak.

The irony is that most of them travel these long distances to sit at a desk with a PC — one that could easily be located much closer to home. There are, of course, reasons for this. They range from the management’s need to ensure employees do the work for which they are paid and the desire of workers for the social interaction of the office environment.

These issues were discussed by Shelley Childs in these pages almost three years ago (“Pods the answer to costly daily commute”, November 17 2015). In the internet age, it is surely time for the archaic practice of the long daily commute — with its demands for ever-increasing road space or costly public transport — to be tackled with vigour.

The finance minister might consider boosting the process by offering tax incentives to companies that introduce modern internet commuting.

• Browning is an independent transport analyst.