Swartruggens being strangled by tolls – Cosatu

The “most expensive toll in the country” is strangling the people and economy of Swartruggens in North West, according to union federation Cosatu and residents.

Many workers use the N4 through the toll gate each day on the way to and from work between Rustenburg, Swartruggens, Zeerust and Groot Marico – and even with the discount for locals, it is unaffordable.

Cosatu threatened court action after its prolonged protest against the toll charge of R75 for ordinary cars was ignored by Transport Minister Dipuo Peters.

Solly Phetoe, the Cosatu secretary in North West, said the province’s premier, Thandi Modise, has now agreed to meet.

He added that the former transport minister, at Cosatu’s insistence, had set up a task team to look at ways to reduce the toll, and to investigate the state of the road and alternative routes.

But the toll charges have increased since President Jacob Zuma’s Cabinet reshuffle in July, when Peters was instated as the new transport minister.

Cosatu was seeking legal advice to fight the fee in court and holds regular protests at the tollgate, insisting that the tariff be reduced to R20 for all.

Economist Mike Schüssler said it is an absurdity that a monopoly can set its own tariffs, and they often overestimate their own financial needs.

This is evident from the huge profits companies like Eskom made, for example, after massive rate increases that hurt their customers badly.

Schüssler said toll tariff increases are not very high, but if the initial rate is high, as in Swartruggens, it becomes unaffordable for consumers.

He said an independent regulator for tolls is essential as it would look at the whole picture. He added that South Africa’s logistics costs are the most expensive in the world.

The Southern African Bus Operators’ Association and the Road Freight Association have also asked for a regulator.

The Road Freight Association’s Gavin Kelly said government set aside money in the 2011 financial year for a toll regulator, but so far nothing has come of it.

Protesters have made their voices heard against the high toll charge at the Swartruggens tollgate and Cosatu is determined to continue with regular protests to stem the increase in rates.

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