Gauteng freeway tolling will be introduced in April at lower tariffs made possible by a handout of R5.75-billion to Sanral, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan announced on Wednesday.
Cabinet on Wednesday agreed on the new toll tariffs after taking note of the public outcry over the proposed tolling system, Gordhan told journalists before tabling his 2012/13 budget speech.
The e-tolling regime will take effect on 30 April.
"Government has been extremely sensitive to the concerns that have been raised in respect of the pricing structure of this particular project," the minister said.
"We are extremely emphatic on finding ways to reduce the burden on South Africa's commuters."
The new fees will see drivers of ordinary vehicles pay 30 cents a kilometre, instead of 66 cents as originally planned. There will also be a monthly cap of R550 for frequent users, the minister said.
"It means that however frequently you travel, your cost won't be more than R550 per month."
Taxis and other accredited public transport providers will be exempted from the so-called e-tag fee. Heavy vehicles will get a 20 percent discount if they travel outside peak hours.
Gordhan said the resolution to the controversy included an undertaking by the Gauteng provincial government to upgrade the R55 and the R101 roads, so that motorists had alternative, toll-free routes.
He said the toll burden on future freeway users was reduced by a budget allocation of R7.57 billion to the SA National Roads Agency Limited in the current financial year, to ease debt of R20 billion incurred in the upgrade.
"We believe that this is an extremely generous and well-balanced way in which government is responding to the various suggestions and concerns that have been raised."
Gordhan said the compromise underscored the "user-pay principle" and government's belief that no service could be provided free of cost, except to the poorest of the poor.
Deputy Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene said the handout from Treasury was made possible by higher-than-expected tax revenue and savings by government, notably the recovery of some R3.5-billion from the cancelled contract to buy Airbus A400M military transport planes.
"These are amounts that could have been elsewhere had it not been for this situation, but as fate would have it, this is one of the important matters that were on the table."
Gordhan stressed that similar steps should not be expected from Treasury on future road projects.
"'This is not an indication of the formula for the future by any means, but I imagine everyone concerned has learnt important lessons."
He said in his budget speech that government will make the development of cheap and efficient public transport systems a priority.
Transport Minister Sibusiso Ndebele said transport legislation would be amended to provide for enforcement of the tolling system, but called on motorists to pay up voluntarily.
"It is a beautiful road and somebody has to pay for it."