“The best things in life are free, but sooner or later the government will find a way to tax them.” Author unknown
The Algarve Resident newspaper last week described today as a ‘Dark Day for the Algarve’.
The forums have been red-hot for months debating this; the A22 has been brought to a standstill several times with demonstrations and protests; and someone even set fire to some of the support buildings for the new toll gantries in April this year.
But after protracted legal wrangling and numerous set-backs, the tolls on the A22 are due to start today.
Trying to find out exactly what this means and what you need to do in order to continue using the A22, has been an interesting challenge, and not something this blog is going to try to explain today – you could try the Algarve Resident for more information as a starter. Or this official web-site if you are feeling brave.
But I thought that today would be a good day to add some thoughts to the debate – I’m not a “nimby” and I am perfectly aware that we are in the midst of an almost global recession – and that Portugal requires a package of austerity measures. But I am still scratching my head in amazement over the nature of these tolls – and I genuinely cannot think of a single reason why this is a good idea for the people – and most importantly – the economic tourism – of the Algarve.
And here’s why:
- The system being introduced is ridiculously complicated. Motorists using the A22 in the Algarve will be charged electronically each time they pass a toll camera. This system involves a series of cameras placed along the motorway which will record all vehicles travelling the road. Residents must buy a transponder, at a cost of €27.50 which is fixed to the windscreen of the car behind the rear view mirror and sends a signal to the cameras. Travellers are charged 0.07 euro per kilometre, so travelling the 133km length of the A22 would cost €8.96; or €11.60 (depends which web-site you read today!) (Confused yet? – you will be!) And each gantry will have a different rate depending upon the distances between the junctions.
- After almost a year of legal issues and delays, and reports since April of the ‘impending arrival’ of the tolls – they are being brought in with ten days’ notice! It’s a great Christmas present for the Algarve – and the timescale hasn’t given much time for you to actually get it all sorted out before the tolls begin. There have been so many changes to the proposed system over the last few months – and a ‘will they – won’t they’ pantomime scenario has been played out – so I cannot imagine anyone has actually bought their transponder in advance. Why didn’t they at least wait until January 1st and give people time to get organised?
- The only alternative to the A22 is the EN125 – which has been regularly described as a “death trap”. The good news is that re-development works on the Algarve’s EN125 road should be finished by the second half of 2013, only three years behind schedule. On a good day, this road is full of idiots overtaking and forcing other cars onto the verge – goodness knows what it will be like when large lorries and coaches join the fray.
- Andalusian politicians and the Algarve Protest Group are planning to take the Portuguese government to the European Court over the legality of the tolls – if they do this the Court might suspend the tolls until a decision is reached – so even if they start today – how long will they last?!
- The cost of the transponders for car hire companies appears to be a worry for many. One company quoted that 3,000 cars would cost them an up-front fee of over €75,000 to bring them up to date – surely a cost that will have to be added to customer? And a lot of money for a company to suddenly find in these economic times. Other reports state that the companies are trying to reach an agreement with the government to pay a set fee every six months instead – presumably that will be added to the cost of hiring your car, even if you do not use the A22?
- For the holiday-maker arriving at Faro airport, this is going to be a major hassle. You don’t want any fuss after a flight; you just want to pick up the keys to your car rental and go. If you incur charges whilst you are on holiday, presumably the car hire company will charge your credit card (as you have to leave details of a credit card with them when you hire the car) once you are back home and you may not even realise it?
- If you have a foreign registered vehicle and you are not a resident you cannot buy a transponder, you can only rent one – the best advice I can get regarding this is that you have to rent a transponder from the Via Verde office in Faro (this is apparently the only venue in the Algarve where a transponder can be rented from for now). Payment is done via an international credit card. A deposit of €27.50 is payable and is refunded upon the return of the transponder. The rental period is for 90 days only, and should an extension be sought, the entire process will need to be repeated. In addition to the deposit, a weekly rental fee is also payable (€6 in the first week, and €1.50 in subsequent weeks). (Confused yet? – me too!)
- How can you chase unpaid fines on a foreign registered vehicle when some countries can have identical number plates – the only differentiation may well be the country’s 2 or 3 digit place code? And are they really going to chase foreign visitors for a small(ish) fine? The fines are supposed to be 10x the toll fee (minimum of €25) and I cannot actually find anywhere on the web which confirms whether the readers are actually set up to read foreign number plates.
- Charging tolls on all these roads is still forecast to represent a shortfall of at least around half a billion Euros a year, which will have to be covered by the taxpayer, so they are not even going to cover their costs very well by introducing these tolls. And it has also been rumoured that the cost of the tolls will rise by 4.36% on January 1st – so presumably all the signs displaying the cost of the tolls for each category of vehicle that have just been finished will have to be updated again in three weeks’ time… madness!
- We will have to wait and see how the tolls will impact upon tourism in the region, but the combination of a complicated system for a visitor and increased costs to local businesses – combined with the VAT increase to 23% from January for restaurants, bars and golf complexes (and others) is bound to affect local businesses; and be detrimental to advertising the Algarve as a holiday destination – especially when Spain on the surface will seem simpler and cheaper!
- The tolls are bound to affect ‘internal tourism’ as well – last week we spent a lovely day in Tavira – which for us on the motorway was about an hour’s drive away- which is manageable. The thought of having to go all that way on the EN125 and navigate Faro will certainly be a consideration for tourist and local alike – East of Faro may well become a foreign country to many!
- I’m no economist – so forgive me for stating what seems the obvious – but wouldn’t it have been simpler to just add 2 cents a litre (say) to petrol prices?
- If the A22 was constructed with EU Community funds – can it be legal to now charge for its use?
- Apparently motorists using the A22 motorway without the transponder can do so, but you will have a limited period in which to contact their nearest CTT post office where you can pay your debt. Once this period has elapsed, which is estimated by Via Verde to be five days, a letter will be sent to the address of the owner of the vehicle who, in addition to the cost of travelling on the motorway, will be liable for “administrative costs”. Even more confusing you cannot go to the post office until 48 hours have elapsed… (Confused again?) – Nothing like creating a simple system to confuse everyone.
- I hate to state the obvious here – but let’s imagine you are travelling around Europe, you arrive in Portugal and you either hire a transponder at Faro (or just drive the motorway without as in no 14 above) – and then you want to leave to cross into Spain to carry on your journey – how exactly will you be able to ‘pay your fine’ before you leave? (Oh, you can’t – because you’ll have driven the motorway towards Spain, and triggered a payment which can’t be paid for 48 hours – so you’ll have to come back 2 days later and drive the motorway back to Faro to pay the fine – Oh woops you’ve triggered it again – erm – does this sound like Groundhog Day?!) – Or you have hired a transponder and you have to take it back (to Faro – during office hours Monday to Friday….) what happens if you want to leave for Spain on a Sunday afternoon? Is there going to be a special booth at the border for you?! (Postscript – there is now ONE booth you can pay at the border … but nothing at the airport except a post office type booth open office hours!)
- Let’s also imagine that you are sent a fine for travelling the A22 – based on your number plate – but you honestly haven’t travelled the motorway… how can you legally challenge this? In the UK let’s say you are sent a fine for a speeding offence and you are adamant that it could not have been you driving – the court can ask for photographic evidence to be brought to prove the identity of the driver – just wondering whether the kit they are setting up on the A22 is able to do that? …
- With such a short timescale to implement this, it has been reported that two of Portimão’s three outlets for selling transponders sold out first thing Monday morning, with queues at the city’s third outlet stretching into the street; and supplies in post offices across the Algarve have been depleted. It doesn’t bode well for the future organisation and management of this system that the initial distribution has been so disorganised.
- If you ask six different people what documentation you actually need to provide to get a transponder – you will get six different answers. Registering for a device is possible online at the Via Verde web-site but it is currently only available in Portuguese and English speakers have to visit their local post office for assistance. Oh and today – the first day it is live – is a bank holiday – so the post office is shut!
- An interesting dilemma has been raised on forums as to who is actually legally – and morally – responsible for paying any fines – it would appear to be the proprietário – i.e. the ‘owner’ of a vehicle is responsible – which in the case of a hire car company means that if a driver incurs fines and then returns the car – it will be the company that gets fined and they will have to chase the payment back to the driver who hired the car… this is beginning to sound messy already – and that’s before the driver denies that they drove on the motorway?!
- You cannot ‘share’ a transponder across more than one vehicle – so you will have to purchase one for each vehicle you own. And according to recent web pages the computer system is already over-loaded and it can take up to 30 minutes to register a car at the post office. That’s a long queue!
- Even the concessions for locals are complicated – try this one for size: ‘For a limited period of time, legally registered residents will be exempt from charges for the first 10 transactions per month, after which there will be a 15% reduction in fees for each transaction. It is understood that the exemptions and discounts for legally registered residents will be in effect until June 30, 2012, after which they will only apply to areas which have a GDP per capita of less than 80% of the national average’. Clear as mud that one – best hope you don’t live somewhere posh then!
- You can only qualify for the concessions for local residents if your vehicle Registration Certificate indicates that you reside in an area within the allocated distance of the motorway. If you have purchased your car with a bank loan the address on your certificate will probably be your bank’s head office in Lisbon – so you will need a letter from your bank confirming your address – ho hum – more bureaucracy and delays!
It’s not so much the tolls themselves that are annoying – it’s the system they are implementing which is at best confusing – and at worst, downright infuriating to try to comprehend, particularly if you are a tourist and visitor to the region. Surely there had to be a simpler system that could have been introduced – or a simpler way of collecting extra revenue.
And to add the icing on the cake – the tolls are introduced today on the bank holiday for the ‘Immaculate Conception’ – you couldn’t make it up!
I would love to hear your views on this controversial topic. Should we have tolls on the A22? And is there a simpler way of raising this revenue? How would you have designed the tolls? And will you still use the A22 – and visit the Algarve?
I have been contacted by a lot of people asking how they can try to sort their toll charges out once they have left the country – or given up queuing at the post office …. the Algarve Resident newspaper this week published the following name and email you can use to contact the company that manages the tolls – you can email them in English:
let me know if this helps!
The Portugal News
The newspaper now has an excellent summary of what you need to do – and how to do it – on their website – click here to find out more information.