BLAME GAUTRAIN FOR TOLL DEBACLE

Jack Bloom MPL

DA Leader in the Gauteng Legislature

The roots of the Gauteng toll road debacle started with the Gautrain.

I remember when it was first mooted in the Gauteng Provincial Legislature.

We were told that a high speed train between Johannesburg and Pretoria would cost less than R4 billion.

It sounded like a really good public transport project to alleviate road congestion.

And then the costs kept rising. People gasped when a R7 billion figure was mentioned, then it became R12 billion, and then still higher.

There were all sorts of delays and more undisclosed expenses, including the costs of land expropriation.

The total cost will exceed R30 billion, excluding a multi-billion legal claim from Murray and Roberts.

It’s still not running through to the Johannesburg CBD because of a water leakage problem in the section from Rosebank.

And annual subsidies to Gautrain will be more than R500 million for many years to come.

A former official in the Gauteng Finance Department told me that economic analyses showed that it was a poor use of capital compared to other transport projects.

But it was pushed through by the politicians who got national government to finance it.

Meanwhile, the Metrorail network desperately needed to be upgraded. Passengers frustrated by delays have even burnt down stations and trains.

Their needs were disregarded in favour of the prestige Gautrain project which hardly addresses Gauteng’s public transport needs.

Gautrain has only ten stations while Metrorail has 160 stations. Compare this to the 250 stations of the London Underground which covers the same size area as Greater Johannesburg.

The money spent on Gautrain should have been spent on Metrorail and the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project.

We wouldn’t then have had tolls at all. But there were other motives for Gautrain.

Jack van der Merwe, CEO of Gautrain Management Agency, has said that Gautrain’s viability depends on forcing motorists to use it because of high tolls.

The SA National Roads Agency (SANRAL) has also said that tolling is not just to raise funds for roads “but to make the use of private transport unattractive”.

There are indications that toll revenue was meant to soak motorists to pay for other pet projects of the Gauteng Provincial Government.

And there is room for suspicion that politically connected people benefited from both the Gautrain and the expensive e-toll collection system.

After all, the ANC’s Kgalema Motlanthe once admitted: “Almost every project is conceived because it offers opportunities for certain people to make money.”

SANRAL CEO Nazir Alli did the honourable thing by resigning after the e-toll fiasco, but his political masters should really pay the price.

Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane claimed that the provincial government did not know the true costs of the e-tolls.

But according to Alli, “a detailed presentation on the financial model” was presented to them on 22 August 2007.

The likelihood of an ANC politician resigning in this matter is minuscule.

The best accountability would be for voters to boot them out at the next election.

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