I bought an e-tag today. Here’s why …

The consulting business that I run leads me on excursions into Pretoria about 3 times a week and into the surrounds of Johannesburg on a regular basis. Utilising the network of freeways in Gauteng is an essential component of my business travel. The drive to Pretoria takes about 40 to 45 minutes, regardless of whether I leave home in peak hour or not. Not so long ago the same return drive chewed up somewhere between 2 and 3 hours of my day. Not anymore.

The difference is this: the (nearly) completed Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project has change my life. Since late 2011 I have enjoyed the benefits associated with our expanded Freeways. This is one of the main reasons why I purchased my SANRAL e-tag today, ahead of the 30th April commencement of tolling. It’s not a popular decision I’ve made. In the midst of the public upheaval around the tolling, it’s a decision that I’m not expecting many people to understand either.

Some of my twitter followers abused me this morning when I notified them that I was going to buy it. Sam raised her eyebrows and asked if I was feeling ok. But I did it. I stood in a queue for over an hour at a temporary centre in Northmead Mall to buy the e-tag and have it registered.

My number 1 reason is this: the expanded freeways give me back so much more time, reduce my stress levels and thus indirectly improve my productivity that I get more value out of using them than the capped toll amount of R550/month will cost me. The benefit versus cost ration just works for me.

Besides the massive value I get from the road network and a desire to pay for the reduction in stress as my main reason, there are a few other reasons behind why:

  • Over the last 14 years of driving on SA freeways I’ve become accustomed to paying a toll for freeways, and amidst the uproar, most of you are still comfortable to stop at a toll gate and hand over your garage card, or small change. It’s become part of parcel of business and personal travel, especially when we go on holiday. So the issue is not about paying tolls, but rather it is about how much we pay.
  • It seems to me that the objections to e-tolling are generally unreasonable in that people confuse protesting for ‘paying something’ versus ‘paying too much’. I am certainly against how SANRAL has gone about thumb-sucking a figure of what to charge us per kilometre, but again, I’m happy to pay something. How much is actually the issue, and I will be watching eagerly as the next round of protests begin to see how they may further reduce what we pay.
  • In my opinion, and after seeing how the system works today in registering my e-tag, SANRAL have done a stellar job in setting up a world class technical system, but have fucked up monumentally when dealing with the public. Not only is it a PR disaster, but they way in which they are now implementing punitive tolls for those wanting to take a civil disobedience stance smacks of massive after thought. Someone genuinely thought they could expand these roads, build the toll gantries and begin tolling road users to pay for the changes without expecting much of a fuss from the public. Pfft. Common logic suggests that you consult first, but hey maybe someone with a “Ask for forgiveness, not permission” poster in their office realised that the e-tolling would not get off the ground if they adopted this approach.
  • So, I do my best to live as a law abiding citizen. It is a choice I’ve committed to by signing an Unashamedly Ethical pledge. And so it will hurt financially and emotionally to pay for the roads, but my conscience will be calmer knowing that I’m adhering to the law. A civil disobedience position is tempting, but it’s just not in my make up.
  • I’m sympathetic to the voices that oppose e-tolling based on the impact it will have to themselves and the economy. Fortunately, I’m in a position to be able to absorb the extra monthly cost that the tolls will incur. Many others cannot. I understand that. Reason still says to me that we need to pay for this awesome benefit (although, I think a fuel levy would have been more appropriate)

 

My experience of registering this morning was telling.

Firstly, it is a lengthy process. It took me an hour – 15mins for myself, but the rest was waiting for people who were registering their fleets of vehicles. So beware, the longer you leave it, the more your frustration levels will rise as you wait in ridiculous queues.

I was expecting to be the only one registering my account. There were however over a dozen people, ranging in age and race. No one was ululating while registering, but there was a simple resignation people exhibited towards e-tolling. One man remarked, “I’d rather get used to this than become an enemy of the state.”

How true that statement was only sunk home when the agent processing my registration asked if I had passed through an R21 toll gantry at 9.27am yesterday morning. She showed me a photo. It was my car. Remember the movie Enemy of the State?

The e-tolling staff were uber friendly, helpful and really well trained. While asking some questions, one white man asked about the punitive fee for not registering and quipped, “Ah, but Vavi won’t let that happen. He says no way! I like that Vavi!” Isn’t it interesting how the country’
s biggest trade unionist is now everyone’s friend? I wonder about COSATU’s real motives behind their massive drive to scrap e-tolling. They must be earning massive public sentiment at the moment. Very clever Vavi, very clever.

Ultimately you’ll need to make your own decision whether you’ll register or not. Your choice. These are just my reasons. Yours will be different, and that’s cool with me.

One Response to “I bought an e-tag today. Here’s why …”

  1. Jason says:

    I liked your stress-free reason behind your choice, but I still don’t like how the ANC government, has failed on infrastructure – the back bone of economic growth – by taking/stealing/giving the existing taxpayer built National Road system and giving it to a SANRAL – a government endorsed Cosa Nostra monopoly company – so at the end of day we all will have to pay extortion fees, but it would make it easier if the benefits are not blurred by the many bully minded tactics and PR stuff ups!
    – I hope you have not lost too many twitter follows as a result!

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