By EMMA BERTENSHAW and SOPHIE MCCARRICK
Motorists will have to start paying toll charges to use the Algarve’s A22 motorway from Thursday next week (December 8).
The decree-law enabling the tolls to be introduced on several motorways in Portugal was passed by president of the republic, Aníbal Caneco Silva and published on Monday on the presidential website and by the Diario da Republica.
According to the decree-law guidelines, there will be “positive discrimination” in favour of local people and businesses.
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.
They will be able to buy a transponder device which will charge them electronically each time they pass a toll point.
Motorists are urged to keep their residency status updated in order to apply for these discounts, which will not apply to tourists or part-time foreign residents.
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.
Temporary devices will be available to hire for all other people. If a motorist does not have a device, they will still be charged as the system will record their licence plates.
However, it is unclear as yet if there will be help for local businesses.
Many public protests over the past year against the tolls in the region have been organised by the group Portagens na A22 Nao led by the A22 Users Commission leader João Vasconcelos.
There has also been a petition raised in opposition to the charges, supported by nine entities based in the Algarve, who argue that there are no alternative routes for drivers to use, that tolls will increase the number of accidents on the N125 and damage the Algarve economy.
António Pina, President of the Algarve Tourism board, said: “The introduction of tolls will not help us to increase our competitiveness for tourism. We believe that this might even hinder some tourists coming to the region because of the payment system.”
Many companies that the Algarve Resident spoke with agreed that the toll charges are bad news and may chase trade away from the Algarve.
A spokesman for Fires of Portugal said the business uses the A22 a great deal in order to reach clients. They have already purchased transponders for their two vans and car but are worried about how costs could affect the profitability of the business.
“We have gotten to a stage where we will not make any money and have considered returning to the UK.”
David McCauley runs a company offering airport transfers
“I feel the same way as everyone else. It won´t be possible to use the 125 instead. Half the problem has been the lack of information.”
Many car hire companies have said they are left in the dark about what charges they can expect and how to inform clients.
Paulo Beja, manager at Europcar, said they operate with “thousands” of cars which will all need to be registered”.
Like much business, they still waiting for more information and believe chasing up payments will involve “a huge increase of paperwork”.
The president of ARA- Associação das empresas de rentacar do Algarve (Association of Rent a Car businesses in the Algarve), Armando Santana, said:
“People are used to using the road without paying. When it was constructed we were told it would not be a toll road.”
However, he doesn´t feel protesting will help.
“We would like to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Currently we are unable to tell our clients how much it will cost or how to pay as we cannot provide them with concrete information,” he said.
ARA has been told there is to be a dedicated website but this has not been implemented yet.
João Correia of Algarve Car Hire says they have been told clients have up to 15 days to pay their bills, after which contact details will be sent to the relevant authority to chase up payments.
“The government will lose more money by introducing this new system,” he said.
Armando Santana added: “The reality of the Algarve is completely different from the rest of the country, where they might have a much higher percentage of residents versus tourists, while here it is the other way around.”
What motorists need to do
From December 8 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 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 128km would cost €8.96.
Locally registered residents with Portuguese registered car
Users can then pay by a linked bank account (Portuguese only) or by pre or post pay at the post office or payshops and Via Verde shops. The system is similar to how mobile phones are used.
If a charge is unpaid, the users then have up to five days to pay before additional fines are added. A minimum of €10 can be pre-paid.
In order to buy the device and register an account, residents will need the proof of residency status, fiscal number, car registration details and if using the automatic payment, a Portuguese bank account.
There are also discounts that will apply. Residents will be exempt for 10 uses each month and a further 15% on all other uses.
Foreign registered vehicles for residents and visitors
Users can pre-pay with their vehicle registration number at the post office (www.ctt.pt)
There will also be temporary devices available for hire, costing €27 and with additional administrative charges. These will be valid for up to 90 days after which they can be re-registered as they must be linked to an individual vehicle.
Registering for a device is possible online at Via Verde but currently it only in Portuguese, English speakers should visit their local post office for assistance.
Rental car users
Visitors to the Algarve using rental cars can ask for instructions from the rental company.
Rental cars will be fitted with a transponder and charges will happen automatically.
Currently, visitors will be asked to pay for their use at the post offices and at pay shops or online using the post office website (www.ctt.pt).
In future there are plans to offer places to pay at service stations.