Scrap plans for more toll roads, says Cronin
Business Day - Sep 6th 2011, 14:25
Deputy Transport Minister proposes the government scrap future plans to construct toll roads across the country and instead redirect resources into improving public transport.
This follows the outcry over the expenses connected to the tolling of urban roads in Gauteng province.
Last month, the city of Cape Town declared a dispute with the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) over the tolling of "important" roads in the city.
Mr Cronin, who was addressing the Food and Allied Workers Union congress in his capacity as deputy general secretary of the South African Communist Party (SACP), said the public outcry was a lesson "to make things right".
"Let’s use the crisis and the outcry to demand decent public transport . Let’s stop other tolling we are looking at ... let’s spend the money on public transport," he said.
Mr Cronin’s comments appeared to be at variance with his department’s position as there are plans to expand the freeway project to other parts of the country.
Transport Minister Sbu Ndebele was quoted in May as having told Parliament that the so-called "user pays" principle — which he conceded would be applied only when required — would go a long way towards relieving the state’s R149bn road maintenance shortfall. This apparent contradiction could play into the hands of SACP members who objected to Mr Cronin and SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande’s deployment in the government.
The Gauteng Open Road Tolling project was mired in controversy since the toll fees were announced late last year. In recent months, Sanral came under fire for reportedly failing to reveal the total cost of the project and awarding the R4bn tender to a mainly foreign-owned consortium to collect tolls.
The outcry prompted Mr Ndebele and Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane to suspend the implementation of the toll fees and have a task team probe alternatives to the high tariffs. Commuter taxis and buses were exempt from the tolls, in terms of the reduced rates approved by the Cabinet last month.
However, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and other civil society groups were pressing ahead with planned protests.
Transport ministry spokesman Logan Maistry refused to comment on Mr Cronin’s comments.
However, Mr Cronin also echoed Mr Ndebele’s recent statement that "freeways are not free", saying eventually someone had to foot the bill. He sought to shift some of the blame towards Gauteng, which Mr Cronin said was the brainchild of the toll project.
Mr Cronin also criticised civil society and political organisations opposed to the implementation of the tolls for not being vocal enough during the consultation process .
"We raised some issues but we did not raise them firmly enough. The protest is correct. This is outrageous. Why did we spend so much money on this thing?"
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