Gauteng E-tolls. What about the tourist?

I’ve trawled the toll sites (or trawled the troll sites, if you prefer) to try and find out how this latest bit of batpoopcraziness from the South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL: tag-line “Creating wealth through infrastructure”) will affect the tourist.

For self-drive international and domestic visitors, it’s easy. The car hire companies will simply add the cost of tolling to your rental bill. And screw the price – because you’ll be paying it.

Although, to be fair, they’re not happy about the idea.

Wayne Duvenage, CEO of Avis Rent a Car, wrote in an article on the company’s site: “While we seek clarity [about e-tolling] and the debate rages on, it would be prudent of Avis to develop systems and processes to be ready for the implementation of E-Tolling and to pass these costs on to the customer – in an efficient manner as possible, in the event that E-Tolling proceeds. E-Tolling will mean that all Car Rental operator’s vehicles (particularly in and around the Gauteng Area) will need to be fitted with an “E-Tag” which will record the cost of the gantry charges incurred by rental customers during each rental agreement. These charges will be transferred to the Avis car rental invoice as a one line item. Should customers require the detail of the tolling entry, these will be retrievable from our web site by entering details specific to the customer rental and all information relating to the rental’s toll transactions will be provided. Avis will charge the specific gazetted gantry charges applicable to each gantry.

“In conclusion, we understand and realize that there is a lot of noise and confusing statements raised on this matter. Please rest assured that if tolling is to be implemented, Avis will be ready with a user-friendly and transparent system to help our customers identify their rental Electronic Tolling costs.”

Hmm. He’s also been quoted as calling e-tolling “impractical, inefficient and ungovernable.”

Melissa Storey, of First Car Rental, says in an on line interview that “Not only does [e-tolling] affect our customer’s pocket and perception of car rental costs when collecting a vehicle from OR Tambo, but there are mandatory vehicle movements between ORTIA and our depot to ensure that our customers receive a clean and fuel-filled vehicle – so a newly built gantry between the Airport off-ramp and Voortrekker Road ensures that we incur a cost each and every time a car leaves from or to the airport.” (Great: you get to cough the moment you enter or leave one of Gauteng’s busiest hubs. What gets me is that you do so on existing roads, which I’ve driven hundreds of times during – what? – the last thirty years? So it’s not as if you’re even paying for a shiny sparkly new and smooth chunk of tar.)

I guess you can understand the hire companies registering their vehicles for the Gauteng e-robbery system: it wouldn’t look good to have every single visitor sitting in jail, and every single car stored in the pound (or whatever SANRAL’s private guerillas intend doing with the abandoned cars of the drivers they’ve locked up).

But what about the visitor from, say, Mpumalanga, who just wants to pop into Gauteng for a bit of R&R, maybe some shopping, and perhaps a one day test or a rugby game?

“Ah! We’ve thought of EVERYthing!” I hear the SANRAL people crowing. “We’ll just charge them extra!”

If you download their smarmy and unfriendly pdf ‘How do I get e-toll ready?’ you’ll learn that:

“Infrequent Gauteng e-road users can pay their toll by registering their Vehicle Licence (sic) Plate Number or by buying a Day Pass at an e-toll Customer Service Outlet, online at www.sanral.co.za by phoning the e-toll Call Centre 0800 SANRAL (726 725).

“Infrequent users, however, may also choose to get an e-tag and register an e-toll Account, in order to qualify for the applicable discounts.”

But I that’s not good enough: especially as the infrequent user will land up paying considerably more than the poor strangled Gauteng commuter (or the delivery man, sales rep, doctor on call, or animal welfare agent rushing from suburb to suburb in her already under-funded van. Oh, and don’t forget that “there are no special discounts for students or pensioners”).

According to Bizcommunity – which has enormous traction in the, um, biz community – “The e-tolling, which comes into effect from the end of this month means that motorists from other parts of the country could find themselves paying three times the standard toll fee to use the new Gauteng freeways and nearly six times the discounted rate for locals who fit e-tags to their cars and have e-toll accounts.”

So the Gauteng Tourism Authority (tag-line: “It starts here”) begs you to go to the Province, and then SANRAL charges you a punitive tax for doing so?

You have to ask, “What does the “It” in “It starts here” stand for? Highway robbery? Or just robbery in general?

Robbery in general, I’d say. As in: “Robbery starts here.”

And how – please, please, HOW? – will e-tolling benefit tourism in our wealthiest province? Especially in a country where the government is looking to our industry to create so many of the jobs it so desperately needs?

For myself (I live in untolled Knysna, in the e-toll-free Western Cape Province), I’ll be avoiding Gauteng because it’s already expensive to drive anywhere. And imagine all the bed nights I can buy in KwaZulu Natal with the money I save on tolls…

All of which explains why I’m with Michael Tatalias, the CEO of SATSA, who recently urged us to register with OUTA (www.outa.co.za) – the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance.

The e-Toll funding model that SANRAL is bullying through is flawed, expensive, wasteful, clunky, and dangerous to tourism – so I’ve signed on.

Have you?

Got anything to add to the conversation? Go here.

Two new books about nature for kids (age immaterial)

Nothing’s more exciting or rewarding than introducing young minds to the wonders and beauty of this world – but they’re busy little things, young minds, and a grognard like me needs all the help he can get.

Two books that recently came my way are surely going to do just that.

My first book of Southern African Ocean Life (by Roberta Griffiths with illustrations by Judy Maré, published by Struik Nature) is another in a series of wonderful soft covers (I reviewed ‘My First Book of Southern African Mammals’ here) which are printed simultaneously in English, Afrikaans, Xhosa, and Zulu.

Simple introductions to the ocean’s food chain and how to use the book are followed by fifty eight pages of information on everything from the tiny zooplankton to the enormous blue whale – with one group or species featured per page.

The illustrations are bold and clear, and each page includes information on where the animals live, what they eat, and how they compare in size to an average person.

I can imagine I’m going to have many hours of with this one and my ocean-mad, five-year-old grandson. And it’s the kind of book that you’ll want in your sea-side guest house’s library, too – because big kids (say, of my age) will enjoy it since it’s so easy to use (and the writing’s nice and big).

Buy it here.

Exploring Fynbos – Plants, Animals, Interactions by Margo Branch (published by Struik Nature) seems to be aimed at slightly older children (tweens, perhaps, or young teenagers), and it’s a fine introduction to the amazing lives that live themselves out in the unique and fascinating Cape Floral Kingdom.

After an introduction to the fynbos (which covers 80% of the region), the renosterveld, the strandveld, the succulent Karoo, the subtropical thickets and the Afromontane forests that make up the biome, Ms. Branch explores every – um – branch of the amazing biodiversity of the tiny coastal region that stretches along the Southern Tip from Niewoudtville in the west to Port Elizabeth in the east.

“Nowhere else in the world are so many species of plants in such a small area,” she writes in her introduction – but did you know that the fynbos also supports all kinds of birds, animals, and creepy-crawlies?

Naturally you did – but here’s a guide to exploring them, and one that includes practical tips on things like looking out for “the yellow orb-web spider and the grey bark spider that weave their beautiful webs between the restios. Have they caught anything in their webs?”

This is a very visual book, with bright, clear illustrations that I found instantly appealing – especially since they don’t have that depressing, washed-out feeling that so many watercolourists seem to prefer.

The text is short and to the point, and should provide just enough information to keep those constantly moving young minds from getting bored.

Matterafact it’s the kind of information that harried adults who’re interested – but don’t have the time to read – could enjoy, too.

I can imagine dipping into it by the fire on a drippy winter’s day in a guest house somewhere in the Cedarberg, say, or in Struisbaai or Agulhas.

Buy it here.

Now go away on holiday – it’s in the economy’s best interests.
… And in the meantime… have a GREAT tourism week!

Martin Hatchuel
– BarefootWriter

Want To Advertise to more than 10,000 names in the Tourism Industry? Want to tap into the power of internet marketing? Want to speak to my audience? Mail me – martin@thistourismweek.co.za – and let’s see how This Tourism Week can work for you.

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This Tourism Week – a free service brought to you by BarefootClients.co.za – is a personal e-letter and informed commentary on issues affecting South Africa’s tourism industry. Please note that the articles in This Tourism Week may only be reproduced with permission (want it? Mail me – martin@thistourismweek.co.za).

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Martin Hatchuel
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