Gauteng's fancy new freeway "open-road" toll system is going to be a bureaucratic nightmare.
The province's more than 4 million registered cars will each have to fit a new R250 set of "intelligent" licence plates, and many regular travellers - upwards of a million drivers - will also have to register their cars for prepaid electronic tags.
The registration for these tags alone will mean the authorities would have to process more than 3 000 cars a day during the registration window period which starts in September this year and ends in March next year.
Currently, the licensing and registration system struggles to deal with 2 000 cars a day across the province, and has been burdened by inefficiency, backlogs and corruption.
Implementation of the new toll system will require a sophisticated network of highway scanners, computers and a huge database.
This while many road users still remember the eNatis electronic licensing system shutdown and chaos of a few years ago.
And, converting car licence plates to the new intelligent ones would require 7 000 cars to be processed every working day between now and that April 2012 deadline. However, the authorities have not yet given the go-ahead for that process to start.
Chaos, red tape and long queues could become the order of the day as motorists are expected to wait till the last minute to get their vehicles accredited as part of these two systems.
The automated toll system is due to come into operation in March next year. Registration will start in September. Vehicles with electronic tags will be scanned at 42 toll points across the province's busiest highways. Owners will then either be sent a bill or will have their prepaid account debited electronically.
But Stuart Farrow, the Democratic Alliance's shadow minister of transport, says getting regular road users registered for the toll system, which will see the N1, N3, N12 and R21 tolled, could be a nightmare.
"Filling in forms and giving other details, including bank account information, will create even more delays," he believes. "This system is going to be very difficult to implement. It's going be dogged by problems, technicalities and people who don't know what's going on."
Ismail Essa, the regional manager of the northern region at the SA National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral), says implementation of the new toll system is set for March and April next year.
"The intention of this system is to have an e-tag system linked to a bank account, or a credit card, and/ or a prepaid account where money can be pre-loaded for paying for the use of the roads," he explains.
"If you don't have an e-tag in your car, then if you use the road we can trace you through the eNatis system and send you a bill."
New legislation, says Essa, would criminalise the non-payment of toll fees for motorists who haven't registered for the electronic tags.
Road users will be hit hard. A daily commute between Joburg and Pretoria on the N1 will cost an extra R1 000 a month.
Automobile Association spokesman Gary Ronald predicts that, rather than pay the hefty fees, many motorists will resort to back roads.
"They'll find the shortest possible route which can be used. From a safety perspective and a town management perspective, this has massive implications for the economy.
"The government is quick to say let's have a toll fee on a particular road, rather than looking at it as an absolute last resort. What happens to the freight transport using the highways in Gauteng delivering our bread and milk? All those extra costs (of the toll fees) are going to be passed on to the consumer."
Rob Handfield-Jones of www. driving.co.za terms the toll system "daylight robbery". "I really think motoring organisations need to look into how it can be stopped."
Peggy Droskie, an executive adviser at the SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry, says while the toll system will improve efficiency, it will have ripple effects on cost.
"We believe, as business, that there will be more positives than negatives about this plan. However, obviously it will increase costs, which will in return be passed on to the consumer," she adds.
Crucial to the success of the toll system is the rollout of the intelligent number plate system in the first half of this year. But to meet its three-year deadline, the Gauteng Department of Transport's service providers will need to process 7 000 plates a day for the province's 4 million registered vehicles.
It is hoped the system will halt vehicle cloning, and it will help the department to solve its problem of running out of licence number combinations.
Ronald adds the department has left this plan to the eleventh hour. "We're soon going to see a lot of cars driving with temporary permits, which are only valid for 21 days.
"Then the cars have to be registered, but there won't be numbers to allocate a registration number. The province (Gauteng) won't be able to accommodate motorists, and according to the National Road Traffic Act, they'll be acting illegally." - Additional reporting by Sheree Bega
This article was originally published on page 1 of The Star on January 09, 2010