FALLOUT: Accident victims could be at risk if the Sanral ruling prohibits private ambulances from free passage on e-tolled highways. Picture: CHRIS BOTHA
The implementation of the e-toll system may have been interdicted on April 28, but concerned parties still need to comment on a gazetted amendment to SA National Roads Agency’s (Sanral’s) draft regulations that do not exempt private ambulances, among others, from e-tolling.
According to Justice Project South Africa (JPSA) national chairperson Howard Dembovsky, the proposed amendments had been published for public comment on April 18, but once again provided only 20 days for comments to be made – one third less than is usual.
While the e-tolling was halted in its tracks, should e-tolling come into force after the court case is finalised after about six months, there are at the moment still no exemption mechanisms in place which caters to public, scholar and minibus taxi transportation or emergency vehicles.
Most concerning of all is that private ambulance and rescue services have also not been exempted. Only provincial and municipal rescue vehicles and ambulances have been exempted.
“The intent of this gazette is to deal with exemption of emergency vehicles as well as public transportation vehicles previously left out of the draft regulations published on March 27,” said Dembovsky.
“While it seeks to exempt marked law enforcement vehicles operated by the SAPS, provincial authorities, Ekurhuleni, Johannesburg and Tshwane metro police departments, it does not exempt law enforcement vehicles operated by the national traffic police, or Sanral or vehicles used by SAPS detectives.
”This in itself bears testimony to the sloppy way in which these regulations have been drafted.”
Dembovsky highlighted that it was private ambulances that responded to the vast majority of accident scenes, not only in Gauteng but nationally, and not provincial or municipal medical services.
Also, a number of private ambulance services were run by non-profit organisations that would struggle with the added e-toll burden.
While the reprieve of the court interdict was encouraging, the JPSA together with other interested parties will still be submitting its comments on Sanral’s proposed amendments, “in case e-tolling goes ahead”.
“We are not that arrogant, we will comment despite the interdict. It would be very foolish to assume anything,” said Dembovsky. Highlighting the role private medical services played in South Africa, ER24 spokesperson Werner Vermaak said that more than 20 private medical services operated in Pretoria alone.
On the Gauteng freeways there can anything between four and five private response teams that arrive at one scene.
Vermaak told The New Age: “As of yet we have had no confirmation of our exemption status. The last we heard we still had to apply for an e-tag.
“Although some of the incidents may not be on the highway itself, paramedics use the highways or main arterials to reach a suburb or area quickly in order to reach the patient as soon as possible and provide definitive emergency medical care. Alternative routes are not always an option due to grid-lock traffic as well as distance.”