Minibus taxi operators and commuter bus services would have to be registered for an e-toll account and be fitted with an e-tag from the South African National Roads Agency (Sanral) if they are to qualify for toll exemptions, Sanral CEO Nazir Alli said yesterday.
This mandatory registration process would ensure that only legal, permit-holding taxis and buses qualify for the zero-rate tariff on the tolled portions of Gauteng’s freeways, Mr Alli said.
This process would also assist in the identification and potential prosecution of illegal taxi operators vehicles that may have cloned licence plates. The e-toll system scans tags and takes a photograph of the front and rear licence plates of a vehicle as it passes under a gantry.
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The exemption that public transport operators get from the Gauteng e-tolls has given ammunition to opponents of the initiative, who said it was unfair.
For taxis, the registration requirement has the potential to unleash chaos in the sector as it would expose unlawful operators, believed to constitute a large part of the industry in Johannesburg, and cause an administrative burden in an industry well-known for violence and civic disruption.
On Tuesday the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance, which has applied for an urgent court interdict against the introduction of tolling, argued that the absence of exemption regulations meant that Sanral was not ready to implement the project.
The court did not allow the body to introduce this argument as it had not given enough notice to the other parties in the case of its intention to do so.
Over the next two weeks Sanral will send out mobile e-tag registration units to help taxi operators open accounts and register their e-tags, Mr Alli said.
Taxi drivers need to be registered with Sanral in order to qualify for the zero-rating on the tariffs that have been extended to public transport operators, Mr Alli emphasised.
"The system must be able to recognise the vehicle in order for the taxi to get its exemption, we have explained this to the operators that will be affected and they understand this," he said.
The regulations that exempt public transport operators such as buses and commuter taxis were released earlier this week for public comment and will not be in place by the time tolling is scheduled to start on Monday.
Mr Alli said that taxis would still qualify for toll exemptions even if the regulations had not been finalised and adopted by the government. Until this happens, taxi operators would need to approach one of Sanral’s e-toll service centres with their operating permits and a copy of the e-toll account invoice issued to the taxi. This would allow the charges allocated to the account to be cancelled, Mr Alli said.
The South African National Taxi Council (Santaco) which claims to represent more than 90% of the minibus taxi industry, cautiously welcomed the announcement, but raised the bigger problem of taxi registration.
"While we welcome the clarity from Sanral, our worry is the problems that exist with the permitting process," Santaco spokesman Thabisho Molelekwa said.
Santaco has held meetings with national and provincial permitting authorities over the pace at which operating licences are issued to taxi operators.
The minibus taxi industry is the largest provider of public transport in SA, carrying 65% of the country’s daily commuters.