About Me

I ramble about a number of things - but travel experiences, movies and music feature prominently. See my label cloud for a better idea. All comnments and opinions on this blog are my own, and do not in any way reflect the opinions/position of my employer (past/current/future).

18 January 2014

Why the e-tag?

I first heard about the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project in 2008 - and that included a fairly detailed discussion on how the project was going to be paid for - tolling. The discussion document, compiled by a senior manager at a large construction company, provided views of the work packages, proposed designs for new interchanges, the proposed timelines for the work and the proposed toll fee of 50c per KM.

I don't like the idea of tolling - but in my opinion OUTA's (and for that matter COSATU and the DA) actions were largely misdirected. Tolling came across, because of a single failure - politicians across the board (from every party) - be it local government, provincial government or national government - not doing their jobs. It is after all their responsibility to vet proposed actions, such as road improvements. And the tenders were all public documents; well advertised - the people who were elected to look after such things, didn't. And a few years after the projects were awarded, it became a hot button issue.

While a lot has been made of the tolling process - one of the questions I haven't seen being raised, is why the e-tag? Let's take the system without e-tags; which is fully functional whether you are registered or not. When a car goes under the gantries, the license plates are captured; and the number plate is deciphered. If the number plate is linked to a registered account, appropriate discounted charges are calculated and deducted from the account. If the number plate is not linked to a registered account, the charges are compiled; and after a certain period of time, an invoice is sent through based on the vehicle registrations details.

So what value does the e-tag add? Firstly, it is not necessary to get the discounted rates. Secondly, it is not transferable - it can only be used with one vehicle. It does not help with unlicensed vehicles - since those vehicles can't get e-tags anyway. In fact, the only benefits I can see are 1) the double-beep to tell you that the account is getting too low and 2) reuse in other toll roads that support e-tags (which don't have cameras). People who use the roads covered by earlier verision of e-tags regularly, already have e-tags - and the use case is easier to defend - pay on the spot, or use an e-tag. That doesn't extend to open-road tolling.

But the whole e-tag infrastructure adds additional cost; additional RFID readers, additional tags, the whole registration process etc. Instead, a more rational process with open road tolling would have been to simply issue accounts -  just like the municipalities do - and provide discounts for early payment, and penalties for late payment. And just like any credit process, provide for debt collection. Registration or pre-paid accounts can also be handled through the same process - but just adds extra administration overhead. 

Instead, with the added complication of registration and e-tags, SANRAL has gotten itself lots of headache and delays - with absolutely no additional benefits.