breaking news

By Nicky Smith

The Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) said on Wednesday the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) had "fabricated" the number of e-tags in circulation for Gauteng’s tolling programme and that the agency will be likely to fall short of its revenue requirements.

Sanral raised the R20bn it needed to fund the road upgrade and expansion programme — officially known as the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Programme — on the bond market. It must now repay the money after having waited for two years to start collecting tolls. The agency has been losing between R200m and R300m a month from the noncollection of tolls.

Sanral has had to borrow more than R5bn to be able to make payments to bondholders.

The claims by Outa signify its continuing efforts against the tolling of Gauteng highways‚ which started earlier this month. Outa chairman Wayne Duvenage said the alliance had used a "statistically sound sample size" for its research into the uptake of e-tags and had discovered that "only 15% of freeway users are tagged and 9% of vehicles counted off the freeway were tagged".

Outa’s conclusion suggests that the figures from Sanral — which on Sunday said 840‚000 e-tags and accounts had been registered — were highly exaggerated.

Sanral spokesman Vusi Mona had not responded to requests for comment at the time of publishing.

"Now that e-tolling has started‚ Outa has conducted a number of physical e-tag counts on vehicles in two environments … the results give a clear indication that Sanral has once again fabricated their e-tag sales to more than double what they are‚" Outa said.

Outa said it counted 4‚334 vehicles between December 5 and December 11 with "the bulk" of the counting done on work days. The study assumed that people who had bought e-tags would have fitted the tags and that these would be installed as per the e-tag instructions on the windscreen‚ which would make them visible.

"A statistical sample size of 2‚000 vehicles in the population of 2.3-million vehicles (Sanral’s number of unique freeway users in an average month) gives a theoretical margin of error between 1.3% and 2.2% at a 95% confidence level‚" Outa said.

Of the 2‚098 vehicles counted on freeways‚ 15% were tagged while 9% of the 2‚236 vehicles counted on nonfreeways had visible e-tags. "We calculate a maximum number of e-tags in use to be around 350‚000‚" which was a 12% penetration rate‚ it said.

"Even if one pushed the e-tag penetration rate to 20%‚ the number of e-tags in use will be no more than 450‚000‚ which is around half the number of tag sales recently espoused by Sanral‚" it said.

Ratings agency Moody’s last week confirmed Sanral’s credit rating at Baa3 and kept its negative outlook in place.

The rationale behind its negative outlook was based on the "operational risks" associated with e-toll collection and "the limited track record of the newly established method of collection … aimed at enhancing Sanral’s capacity to enforce payment of e-tolling fees‚" Moody’s said. "An upgrade or stabilisation of the outlook will require evidence of Sanral’s capacity to realise adequate cash flows from its e-tolling operations‚" it said.

Failure by Sanral to "maintain sufficient e-toll revenue collection … would apply downward rating pressure"‚ Moody’s said.

Mr Duvenage said at this "rate Moody’s negative outlook on Sanral’s credit rating is justified as it would appear Sanral is facing serious problems in collecting the required revenue of over R250m a month".