E-tolls ‘will paralyse the disabled’
Open road tolling will truly paralyse Gauteng’s disabled community, should the minority group’s plea for exemption from e-tolls not be granted by government.
This is according to Ari Seirlis, CEO of SA’s quadriplegic and paraplegic association (QASA), representing people with disabilities who feel they should be exempt from paying government’s latest road tax due to their unique circumstances.
While the onset of e-tolling in Gauteng went off relatively hitch-free yesterday, a few protests marred the start of the electronic tolling system that many motorists have been resisting for over a year now. QASA’s display of disappointment was symbolised by a burning wheelchair outside the SA National Roads Agency’s (Sanral’s) Rivonia Road centre.
The group feels its situation has not been taken into account by Sanral and the government, which it claims have misled it and kept it in the dark around its financial obligations to pay e-tolls.
QASA says it has been campaigning for e-toll concessions since early last year, but its pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
The culmination of the association’s “unheard cries” was a visit to one of Sanral’s customer care centres – an event Seirlis said earlier would either end in champagne or protest.
“We are here today to get the exempted e-tags we have been promised. We followed the right route in seeking concession and information around exemption and have been told by authorities that we would not have to pay e-toll fees.”
The group’s premise is that the disabled cannot afford an additional tax on top of the recently hiked petrol prices and obligatory fees they already pay. “And the public transport in SA is by far not up to scratch. We cannot use the buses, because they are not all fitted for wheelchairs, and the Gautrain does not cover the whole of Johannesburg and Pretoria.”
Coinciding with International Day of Persons with Disabilities and day one of government’s contentious e-toll system – a group led by Seirlis and fellow disabled representative Muzi Nkosi was told by Sanral they could register for e-tolling as normal road-users and “follow up on exemptions, if they apply”.
The group, ushered out of the centre with media cameras in tow, responded with picket signs displaying captions that included: “E-tolls will immobilise wheelchair users”, “E-tolls will paralyse us” and “E-tolls tax the poorest of the poor”. These were displayed while a written-off wheelchair burned outside the e-toll centre, seemingly without any reaction from Sanral security or officials.
Seirlis says the group, which he notes is financially burdened as it is, will fight to the bitter end for its rights to enjoy the same exemption SA’s taxis do. Sanral had not responded by the time of publication.