Gauteng motorists have to pay their historic e-toll debts or make payment arrangements by May 2, 2016 to qualify for the 60% discount announced by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa on May 20 this year.
Those who fail to do so will be liable for the full amount, CEO of e-toll operator Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) Jamie Surkont, told reporters on Monday.
The discount is offered on debt incurred from the commencement of e-tolls in December 2013 to the end of August this year. The total historic debt, after application of the discount, currently amounts to R5.9 billion.
The 60% discount is one of several elements of a package announced by Ramaphosa in an effort to make the system more acceptable to road users, whose resistance is reflected in the current low payment rate of 30%.
Surkont said a road user who for example incurred e-toll costs of R100, would have received a discount if he paid within 30 days. In terms of the discount he would have paid R40. If he failed to pay within a month, the amount would have increased to R300.
In terms of the current offer he can get the discount and still pay only R40 if he takes advantage of the offer before May 2 2016. If he doesn’t, he will be liable for the full R300.
Road users don’t need to register to get the discount and if they register, they are not obliged to use an e-tag.
Surkont said debt is usually a function of two factors, namely a debtor’s willingness and his ability to pay.
He says the current resistance may be based on a variety of factors, including the fact that it is a grudge purchase, the influence of “unprecedented consumer and social activity” and a feeling of revolt, political interference and delays, a lack of prosecution, and what he calls a myth that e-tolls are unaffordable.
As a contractor ETC cannot do much about people’s willingness to pay, but it can attempt to bust the ‘myth’ that it is generally unaffordable.
Surkont said the average debt on the 3.3 million accounts that are in arrears for the whole 21 months, is R1 875 if the discount is applied. (Most accounts have more than one vehicle) That is an average of less than R89.27/month over the 21-month period. If those road users (unregistered) paid within seven days, their costs would have dropped to R74.39/month and if they were registered, to R38.68/month on average.
He said 81% of the outstanding debt was incurred by 518 000 road users. The lower half of these have an average debt of R9 300 after the discount is applied. If they paid within the grace period of seven days, they would have incurred cost of R375/month and if they registered it would have dropped to R195/month.
Twenty-two percent of the total debt was incurred by 20 000 account holders who have a balance of R78 000 (after discount), incurred at an average of R3 715/month.
ETC believes it is possible “to have some level of success” with the collection of the historic debt. Surkont says the top debtors are “contactable entities with a commercial focus”.
The top debtor owes the South African National Roads Agency Limited (Sanral) R20 million after the discount. While he would not disclose the name of the account holder, he said it is a big, unlisted company.
ETC has ring-fenced the historic debt and it does not reflect on statements under the new dispensation. The company has formed a task team to do the collection and brought in experts to help with the strategic approach, Surkont said.
Road users, who are not in a position to settle the debt in full, can make arrangements. He said there would be flexibility, as long as the customer sticks to the arrangement. A total of 3 000 payment arrangements have been concluded so far.
Since the offer opened on November 2, ETC has had enquiries to the value of R300 million, but the conversion to actual payments has been slow, Surkont said. “South Africans tend to wait until the last minute.”
In response to objections about the high cost of e-toll collections, Surkont said the company’s basic tariff is not excessive. “Our business is not very successful. Our shareholders will be lucky if they get their investment returned.”
He said collection of overdue amounts is activity driven. The more measures have to be employed to collect the debt, the higher the cost is. If South Africans want a more efficient system, they should become more compliant, he said.
Surkont acknowledged that ETC has not received instructions from Sanral to proceed with prosecutions or implement the block on the eNatis accounts of road users with arrear debts.
He said road users get information and make payments on the dedicated, where they will also find information about other available channels.