You might think that toll roads are the exclusive domain of European roads but you’d be surprised for the governments of many other countries around the world have sat up and taken notice of the revenue that can be generated by charging motorists to use the main arterial roads. One such country is South Africa but the process there has come a little unstuck in recent months.
Toll Roads in South Africa
Most toll roads are in reasonably affluent countries where paying a little extra to use a faster, more direct and less congested motorway is little more than an inconvenience on the wallet but road tolls are indifferent to poverty and whilst many wealthy South Africans put up with toll charges as an inescapable tax, the poorer ones are finding that it affects their ability to go and find work and then to get to work each day. Added to that the sometimes seemingly over burdensome charges on some routes and something is bound to give.
This summer protests began over the introduction of quite artistic electronic toll gantries over the motorways in Gauteng Province. As one of South Africa’s wealthiest provinces, the government decided that the toll charges would be less of a blow to the road users there but seriously misunderstood the level of public opposition. To cut a long story short, the gantries are still in place but the charging process is awaiting a judicial enquiry into the fairness of it, especially on the pockets of the province’s poor. The government is currently saddled with a debt for the road upgrade that it can’t afford to repay whilst motorists for the time being are happy.
New 'Gauteng' gantry causing a stir
It’s feared the situation may extend to other toll roads in the country which has an extensive network of roads that drivers are charged to use but up until now, these toll roads have merrily raked in much needed funds for the government without protest.
As you’d expect, most of South Africa’s toll roads are concentrated around the main cities with Johannesburg having the vast majority due to its network of arterial and ring roads. Elsewhere, long distance motorway routes are also charged. For example, the Durban to Port Elizabeth motorway, a distance of around 500 miles incurs a charge for most light vehicles of around £5, seemingly not a huge amount to high income Europeans but a substantial amount for the poorer South Africans whose annual pay can be as low as £1000 on average or £20 a week.
It’s a lot more expensive travelling to and from Johannesburg where the 300 mile journey to Durban will set you back around £13 and a slightly shorter journey to Cape Town will cost £9.
Toll Roads From Johannesburg Airport
Most tourists will arrive in Johannesburg, and rent a car from OR Tambo Airport
for the onward journey to their resorts. Few realise that to get to their destination quickly, and in a lot of cases, safely, they’ll have to pay. A popular destination from Johannesburg is to the Kruger National Park and as such, you’ll be stung for the journey of 300 miles, a toll charge of £15.
Toll charges are mostly collected through what are known as ‘toll plazas’ basically a series of toll booths where you pay cash. The Gauteng system uses an e-tag where a signal from your tag will be detected and your credit card or bank account debited. If you don’t have an e-tag, a bill will be sent to the address your registration number is linked to and you’ll have seven days to pay. Currently with the Gauteng system suspended, the recommendation is that you don’t need to buy an e-tag until the situation is clarified. If it returns to operation, the e-tag system will offer a discount on tolls.
In many countries you’d be able to use minor roads to avoid the toll charges but in South Africa, that can be an often costly and sometimes very dangerous mistake. Several stories exist of how naïve tourists have tried to avoid toll roads, coming off the roads at junctions before the toll starts only to find themselves in dangerous neighbourhoods where they are completely lost. Asking for directions in such places is tantamount to suicide and many have been robbed for their mistake.
Toll road to Johannesburg
Whilst toll charges may be inconvenient, to western tourists they are a lot lower than you’d pay in Europe so, for the sake of your personal safety, use the toll roads where possible.