South African motorists block highways in toll protests
Convoys of cars drive extremely slowly on major highways to protest the country's new automated tolls.
Several highways north of Johannesburg were moving at around 12 mph in the middle of the day, despite police urging the drivers to go faster, according to local reports. Traffic was effectively blocked on several routes after morning rush hour until 2 p.m., even with only about 60 cars participating.
Protests, including full-scale highway blockades, have been occurring since late last year, when the government announced it would install a new system of electronic tolls to pay for road repairs and highway extensions into the more rural north. The toll system, like the one in Texas, uses overhead license-plate scanners that don't require drivers to slow down. Since opening in May, the tolls have been a constant sore eye for many motorist groups.
At issue is cost: about 30 cents per kilometer, equal to about 1.8 U.S. cents per mile, with a maximum of $63 per month. The trade unions say lower-income people will be put at a disadvantage since public transportation isn't widely available. Also, like opponents of the new 85-mph toll road in Texas, they claim a private toll company can't be trusted to run a public road.
Other opponents say the toll system's installation and maintenance costs will end up being more than the road improvements it was set up to fund. In any case, it's not pretty -- and even if a relatively small number of motorists protest, the traffic jams affect everyone. Some have even suggested a 15-percent increase in the country's fuel tax to pay for the roads in place of a toll system. As for alternative routes, well, they're dangerous and even more jammed.
For some odd reason, U.S. motorists don't seem to mind their tolls, even if the money doesn't fund the very roads they're on; in New York City, much of the insane $10-plus toll charges go to the subway system. How about you? Would you get on the road and drive ultra-slowly to prove a point? Is your state using your toll money wisely and effectively?
We may have a good lesson to learn from South Africa -- namely, that it doesn't take a lot of people to make a big statement.
[Source: Mail & Guardian, News24; Image credit MSN Africa]
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