07 DECEMBER 2011 SAVRALA PRESS RELEASE
Tourism concerned that PRE does not have the systems to manage exemptions from GFIP
Encouraged by the positive statements made by the MEC for Roads and Transport in Gauteng, Ismail Vadi, at the recent Gauteng Public Transport Regulatory Entity (PRE) launch, the Tourism industry remains concerned about PRE’s capacity to serve both their customer’s needs and SANRAL in Q1 2012.
The Southern African Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (SAVRALA) representing approximately 450,000 vehicles, the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA), the Coach Owners Association South Africa (COASA) and the Federated Hospitality Association of Southern Africa (FEDHASA) were represented at the launch by the umbrella association Tourism Business Council South Africa (TBCSA). Several transport association spokespeople criticised the previous Gauteng Operating Licensing Board (GOLB) for long delays and arrogance when processing permit applications but the MEC assured guests that the new PRE board will seek partnerships with its stakeholders and operate with ‘efficiency; professionalism; integrity, and strict adherence to the regulatory regime’.
The concerns were raised in light of the fact that the TBCSA (Tourism Board Council of South Africa) have many members who operate transfer and chauffeur-drive services, which, like metered taxis, require both vehicle and driver permits. Although the TBCSA looks forward to a constructive and efficient engagement with the new entity, they remain concerned about how the PRE will cope with plans by the Department of Transport (DoT) to implement GFIP (Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project) open road tolling in February 2012.
Admitting that the current entity has an ‘outdated and obsolete IT system’ the MEC did not give any clarity on how the proposed toll exemption for commuter buses and mini-bus taxis will be managed by the PRE. This is important as the new entity will need to maintain, at least daily, the validity status of vehicle permits allocated to certain vehicle license plates for the SANRAL tolling system to ensure that expired or withdrawn permits do not continue to receive exemptions from the proposed GFIP toll fees. Failure to maintain a high level of integration is likely to see a real risk of increased cloned minibus taxi and commuter bus license plates if the exemption is to be applied only to a narrow group of permit holders.
It is also unclear at this stage how the toll exemption status of minibus taxis and commuter buses, with permits issued outside of Gauteng, travelling on GFIP, will be managed. Will these road users be exempt? These types of questions become real issues for inter-provincial minibus taxi and commuter bus operators and could likely require national integration with SANRAL by all PRE’s and remaining Operating Licensing Boards. Operators would, for example, need to understand whether their Mpumalanga issued permit will be cancelled due to non-payment of GFIP tolls.
The DoT, after changing all its ‘user pay’ model descriptions, is yet to issue any detailed directive in the Government Gazette to help the various metered taxis, transfer and chauffeur-drive services understand why they may not be exempted from tolls.
A further question mark remains around whether the growing number of scholar transport operators, who will require permits, will be exempt from GFIP tolls?
It seems ironic that one of the potential new priorities for the Gauteng PRE in early 2012 may well be to invest in systems and resources (at vast cost) to accommodate integration into the proposed SANRAL GFIP toll system, for the purposes of tracking and administering exemption from toll fees. PRE will therefore be investing in major IT infrastructure without earning any revenue for this obvious administrative minefield.
The TBCSA feels that this is once again an example of wasteful and thoughtless expenditure and a further reason why urgent discussions need to take place between the DoT and the broad transport industry regarding the use of the national fuel levy to fund GFIP and other infrastructure projects in a much more cost-effective and administratively streamlined manner. SANRAL has estimated GFIP administration costs to be over R5bn for the next five years. TBCSA feels that this estimate is very conservative and will be far exceeded when the cost of collection and enforcement as required by the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA) is considered. This excludes the additional costs that will have to be passed on to Gauteng consumers. The billions to be spent on administration should rather be used for the construction and maintenance of highways around the country.
By utilising the existing fuel levy and increasing this by an acceptable margin to fund additional road expansion and upkeep would avoid all the above mention infrastructure costs and could save the country billions of Rands in additional expenditure.