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Tollgates: More than meets the eye

Tollgates are a fact of life for South African motorists – as they are to millions of others around the world. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you can’t go anywhere without passing through one or more of them and, yes, every time it will cost you money. Period. First class roads have to be paid for somehow. And then, once they’re built, it costs money to maintain them. Whinge and whine as much as you like but those costs are borne by the road user. You. The alternative, of course, is to make use of the crumbling road network which is (laughingly) supposed to be maintained by the state. A perfect example would be the R36 (aka “Hell’s Highway”) between Bambi and Lydenburg which is, to all intents and purposes, unusable - by anything other than goats.

But does the average road user know anything about what goes on at a tollgate? Does Joe or Jane citizen realise that modern toll plazas (to use the correct terminology) are, in fact, extremely sophisticated operations that do far more than just collect your tolls? Did you know that every time you go through a toll gate, virtually every single detail of your transit is logged and recorded? Every vehicle and every transaction is captured on camera – from at least three different angles simultaneously and with full audio capability. Yep, they can see you and hear you. And those cameras are linked to an Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) system which records your registration number. Right again… They can see you, hear you, know who you are and where you live, what you drive, what day, date and time you passed through the tollgate and how often you do so – just for starters. The systems at modern toll plazas are also linked to, for example, the national e-natis system and have links and access to both traffic police and SAPS nationwide. Of course, all of this information is strictly confidential and access to it is rigidly controlled by both internal mechanisms and by the laws of the land. But it’s there if it’s needed…

Like policemen and ambulance crews, sooner or later, tollgates and tollgate staff get to see just about every aspect of day-to-day life – the good, the bad, the ugly and just about everything in between…
On the downside, tollgate staff put up with a surprising amount of abuse from Joe Public. They are sworn at, insulted and generally verbally abused. People spit at them, threaten them, point guns at them, incite vicious dogs that are with them in their vehicles to bite them, throw rubber snakes into the toll booth or get out of their cars and attempt to physically assault them. (P.S. toll booths are locked and have bullet-proof glass) They also expose themselves, make lewd remarks and try to proposition toll booth operators – and much more.

In the plus column, thank goodness there are tons of just plain, bog-standard, everyday good-hearted South Africans as well. Otherwise nobody would be prepared to work at a tollgate – for any money. These same motorists smile, greet and are unfailingly polite as they hand over their hard-earned boodle. They bring little gifts – a cold drink on a hot day, containers of homemade soup, cakes, sweets, biltong, etc. They also pitch up drunk, clever, crazy, stupid, happy, grumpy, tired, sleepy, on drugs, in a hurry, in laid-back mode, old, young, fat, thin, naked and even indulging in sexual activity. One couple stopped their vehicle at the booth whilst having a blazing row. Ignoring the operator, they continued to bicker until things escalated to the point that they both got out and proceeded to chase each other around the car – screaming and shouting. Entertaining or infuriating others waiting to pass through in the process. Not too unusual at a tollgate – except that, in this instance the couple happened to be stark naked.

So the next time you go through a tollgate, spare a thought for the staff – they put up with a lot and are just normal working folk, doing their jobs, like the rest of us. And remember, “Big Brother” is watching, 24/7/365. Your antics which may be amusing to your drunken tjommies in the back may just land you in hot water
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