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GAUTENG motorists have been granted a reprieve from freeway toll fees.
A new fee structure announced by government proposes that tolls for regular users of freeways be capped at R550.
Commuter taxis and buses will be exempt from paying toll fees, while a 20% discount will be introduced for heavy-duty vehicles that travel on the highways outside of peak traffic hours.
The proposed new price structure was announced by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan at a press briefing just before tabling his budget in Parliament.
But trade union federation Cosatu, a fierce opponent of the toll fees, has stuck to its guns, saying the proposed fee structure remained unaffordable.
Cosatu boss Zwelinzima Vavi reiterated his call for motorists to drive through the toll without paying immediately after the tabling of the budget. He said the planned strike against the toll fees next month would remain in place and another one would take place in April.
"We will not compromise, we just don't have the R500 to pay ... it's not good enough.
"To our people, don't buy those e-tags. Defy this thing, drive through the public roads. We will not be used as a cash-cow to profit some foreign investors," said Vavi.
In terms of the new price regime, the per-kilometre fee for private motorists goes down from 66c to 30c for those that purchase e-tags from roads agency Sanral. Frequent users now have their toll-fees capped at R550 per month, no matter how often they travel on Gauteng's freeways. They will also qualify for a 15% discount when their toll-fee account accumulates to R400 in a single month.
Motorbikes will now be charged 20c per kilometre per trip, smaller trucks have to fork out 75c per kilometre on Gauteng freeways, and bigger-size trucks a whopping R1.51c per kilometre.
Heavy-duty vehicles will benefit from a 20% discount for using the freeways outside morning and afternoon peak hours. Tolling will start on April 30.
The planned tolling of Gauteng freeways was introduced to help Sanral pay back more than R59-billion that it has borrowed to upgrade roads nationally. Gauteng freeways alone have cost Sanral R20-billion to upgrade.
The Automobile Association has threatened to take government to court over the planned tolling of freeways.
Raymond Parsons, the deputy CEO of Business lobby group BUSA, yesterday welcomed the new fee structure as a compromise, saying government had come a long way to meet the demands of various groups.
Unhappiness over the plan prompted government to put the implementation of the toll fees on hold while it embarked on a frantic search for a solution.
Gordhan described the new price plan as "extremely generous" and a demonstration that government does listen to the concerns of its citizens. "This is the best that that government can do ... it's a demonstration of government's commitment to coming to the party where it can find the means."
He said government was now appealing to all concerned parties to seriously consider the new price plan.
Deputy Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene said government would direct some of the R5-billion refund it received from the aborted sale of Airbus aircraft by arms manufacturer Armscor towards Sanral to help it repay its loans.
Transport Minister S'bu Ndebele said Gauteng would prioritise the rejuvenation of the R55 and R101 routes between Johannesburg and Pretoria, which would be used by motorists who could not afford the freeway toll fees.