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Wednesday Apr 25, 2012

All eyes on court amid battle against Joburg e-tolling

Gauteng motorists will have to wait a few more hours before finding out if an urgent interdict to postpone e-tolling has been successful or not.

After hearing an entire day of arguments for and against the urgency of the application to stop the e-tolls, Judge Bill Prinsloo decided to hear replying affidavits today and to then make his judgment.

Before argument got under way, National Treasury joined Sanral and the Department of Transport to support the case for e-tolling, while Afriforum joined in opposition of the e-tolling.

The Road Accident Fund withdrew as a friend of the court.

Cosatu also had a legal representative at court, Paul Kennedy, SC, to observe the case to consider joining in at a later stage. Arguing that the case was not urgent, Sanral's legal representative David Unterhalter SC said the freeways were declared toll roads in 2008, so why the late application?

But the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance argued that Sanral had not revealed all the information, such as tariffs and other legalities before February this year. The court thus needed to consider this as the public's last chance to do away with what may be an illegal system.

The first order of the court was whether an extra affidavit which the alliance submitted regarding the late publication of tariffs should be heard by the court.

The alliance said in the affidavit that because exemptions would not be ready by April 30, e-tolling could not be considered ready to start.

But Unterhalter, Treasury's Jeremy Gauntlett SC and Department of Transport's Vincent Maleka SC all argued against the amendment being admitted by the court. They won with Judge Prinsloo striking the amendment off the court roll saying it could be heard at a later date.

The case then moved on to the urgent application. Unterhalter handed in all the State's notices since 2006 showing the process it had used to declare the roads toll roads and subsequent public consultation. In the past year the government had made it clear during all the e-toll commencement postponements that it was interrogating the tariffs and not the road tolling, he said.

Gauntlett argued that in its application the alliance expressed hopes that e-tolling would be scrapped, showing it had knowledge earlier than February this year about tolling. It should thus have brought the application earlier.

"Even on the alliance's website it says 'after months of consultation with our legal team'," Gauntlett said in his argument that the case not be considered urgent.

But the alliance's legal representative, Alistair Franklin, countered that because e-tolling was due to start in under a week the matter was urgent. He asked the judge to consider the enormous public interest in the case. "Don't close the door in the face of the public."

Franklin said e-tolling could not be considered formal until tariffs were announced, which only happened earlier this month. If etolling was allowed to start, the "horse would have bolted" and the system could be illegal, he said.

Franklin's two main arguments regarding the illegality of the system were that the collection costs were as high as the cost of building the roads and the system was impractical. Collection costs of up to R20 billion were estimated, but both Sanral and the transport minister refused to divulge the true cost of the collection fee, he said.

"Why will they not give us or the court this information," he asked. "Simply because (it) will show the unreasonableness of the system."

On the impracticality of the system, he said if only 7 percent of road users were not compliant Sanral would have to issue 70 000 summonses a day.

Pretoria News


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