Disabled not exempt from e-tolls
Persons with disabilities are not exempt from paying tolls as part of the Gauteng Freeway ImprovementProject (GFIP).
These are the words of SA National Roads Agency (Sanral) CEO Nazir Alli, who says – although the state-owned agency and government have previously engaged in discussions with the QuadPara Association of SA (QASA) regarding issues faced by people with disabilities – it is misnomer for the group to think they are exempt.
This follows a protest by QASA and fellow disabled individuals last Tuesday, during which the group – apparently under the impression they could register for “exempted e-tags” on the day – picketed and burnt a dilapidated wheelchair outside Sanral’s Rivonia customer centre.
In a letter addressed to the South African Disability Alliance (SADA) – a body consisting of 12 national associated entities, including QASA – Alli emphasises that, in terms of the Sanral Act (section 27.1.C), exemptions may only be granted by Sanral in respect of “vehicles of a category and users of the road of a category”.
As it stands, according to Sanral, the South African Police Services and the South African National Defence Force are exempt through legislation; and “qualifying commuter public transport operators” receive a 100% discount in certain instances – through a Cabinet directive.
QASA CEO Ari Seirlis says Alli’s letter contradicts what the group was told by a Sanral official two weeks before its protest. “Our intention and hope was to get exemption. We believed the appropriate forms would be available.”
On arrival, the group was told it could register as regular road users and appeal for exemption afterwards, but it turned its back on the suggestion.
Sanral spokesperson Vusi Mona says Sanral has always been prepared to listen to the voice of the disabled, but that QASA keeps vacillating between litigation and negotiation. Seirlis, however, disputes this – saying the organisation joined the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance prior to opening up discussions with the roads agency. No backing down
Despite past battles, says Seirlis, QASA is hopeful a solution will come about – thanks largely, he says, to a call from the MEC of transport’s office this week.
“They have asked for patience during this 10-day mourning period [for Nelson Mandela] and said they would like to engage with us to talk about exemption for the disabled.” He says QASA this week applied for exemption for the buses non-profit organisations and members of SADA use to transport the disabled.
“Our request is threefold: we would like e-toll exemption for the buses we use to transport the disabled (not for commercial gain, but for free); and then we would like the same for disabled drivers of their own cars. The last, slightly trickier one, is some kind of e-toll relief for regular road users who give disabled people lifts.”
While there is hope, says Seirlis, QASA is resolute it “will not stand down until we have a workable agreement”. He says the group will continue to put pressure on the relevant authorities to come up with a fair agreement. “Until that paper is signed, we can’t shake hands and put the matter to rest. It’s a trust thing.”