The Department of Transport has presented a 225-page draft proposal that could give substantial discounts for motorists who frequently travel on toll roads, but may result in the doubling of vehicle licence fees and an eventual petrol price hike of up to 40c per litre.

The Department of Transport has presented a 225-page draft proposal that could give substantial discounts for motorists who frequently travel on toll roads, but may result in the doubling of vehicle licence fees and an eventual petrol price hike of up to 40c per litre.

The radical shake-up is part of a comprehensive transport policy draft designed to relieve the R6-billion funding shortfall for road maintenance.

According to , many commuters could benefit from new toll discounts and a more equitable "user pays" policy. But in return for free or discounted access to toll roads, the department estimates that the price of petrol might have to rise by between 35c and 40c a litre. Instead of hiking fuel prices overnight, it has been suggested that the increases be phased in over a period of years to soften the blow.

The draft also suggests that vehicle licence fees could be doubled. It says South African licence fees are low in relation to other countries, and often amount to less than the price of a full tank of petrol or diesel.

Equitable toll-road fees

The document will be debated at public workshops later this month. It calls for an independent review of the tolling policy, to provide financial relief to the poorest groups of commuters, and the possible reinstatement of free "alternative" roads when new toll roads are built.

The move could also result in several sections of nationally-controlled roads being handed over to local or metro governments. The revised policy could be revised to give free access, or substantial discounts, for commuters who have been given no alternative but to travel on toll roads.

“This might affect buses and minibus taxis on certain toll roads, include low and peak-hour congestion tariffs, as well as noise and air pollution tariffs for diesel and heavy vehicles,” the report said.

A uniform toll-tariff structure would curtail the problem of commuters in busy urban areas cross-subsidising the cost of road construction on more thinly trafficked routes, the department argues.

Heavier taxation for overloaded heavy vehicles

Overloaded heavy vehicles - thought to account for up to 60 per cent of the damage to South Africa's roads - would also be taxed more heavily and subjected to more stringent traffic enforcement checks.

The clampdown on overloaders could also help to push more freight transport back on to railway lines - although the transport department acknowledges that Spoornet's efficiency would also have to improve.

Better appropriation of fuel levy funds

Also on the cards is the reinstatement of a dedicated or "earmarked" fuel levy to pay for road construction and maintenance. For decades, motorists have been paying a hefty levy on every litre of fuel they buy.

reports that the fuel levy income was originally intended to pay for the upkeep of roads, but the coffers have been plundered by successive governments to finance other pressing social needs, such as education and health.

The department of transport estimates that less than 50 per cent of this fuel tax (now about 36 per cent of the petrol price) finds its way back to the transport department for road funding.

In reaction, South African National Roads Agency chief executive Nazir Alli said the recommendations should be seen as a set of options which still required thorough public debate.

"It would be premature to comment on which recommendations might be accepted or rejected - but this review presents an opportunity for all of us to become part of the solution,” Alli said. "We are saying to the public, 'these are the needs, and these are the options.

"None of these options is final because we may need a combination of options. We were party to drawing up this document and we don't pretend to have all the answers," he added.

Original article from Car