Fight against tolls intensifies

by INÊS LOPES [email protected]

A “stronger and more cohesive” group backed by the Spanish government has vowed to continue the fight against tolls on the A22.

At a meeting last Friday in Huelva (Spain), where the Algarve was represented by the A22 Users’ Commission, around 20 Spanish entities representing business and transport associations, unions and local politicians signed a manifesto for a toll-free border crossing area between Andalucia and the Algarve.

Representatives from the five Spanish bordering regions also agreed to meet to define a common strategy to abolish the payment of tolls in cross-border areas between Portugal and Spain.

Juan António Millán Jaldón from the National Federation of Spanish Transport Associations said a future action would be to widen the manifesto proposal to other bordering areas of Portugal and Spain.

“We are planning to meet in Salamanca (Spain) to agree on a strategy with Portugal to define toll-free border crossing areas,” he said, adding that discounts for residents living near the toll roads were not enough.

“It is important to re-establish freedom of movement and equality and put an end to this discrimination,” said Juan Jaldón, who wants to see the Portuguese State complying with Community legislation, following the European Commission’s position on the matter recently.

The Portuguese government has since come forward to clarify Aveiro Council’s press statement which included “parts” of a response from the European Commission regarding tolls on former Scut roads.

The Ministry of Economy said the statement was “cleverly written” to omit what was really at stake, which was the legality of discounts for residents.

Following the wide coverage given by the press to the statement issued by Aveiro Council, the ministry promptly clarified that the warning from the European Commission did not refer to the charging of tolls itself as the release led journalists to believe (see Algarve Resident edition, March 9).

A source from the Ministry of Economy told Lusa news agency: “Aveiro Câmara cleverly left out the main point regarding the discounts for resident users, which the European Commission does not consider eligible.”

Minister of Economy Álvaro Santos Pereira said there was “no alternative” to the tolls and that he was certain Brussels would be “sympathetic to our economic argument for the user-pays principle”.

In its complaint to the European Commission, Aveiro Câmara claimed that the introduction of tolls on the A17, A25 and A29 was violating freedom of movement and the principle of non-discrimination on the basis of nationality.

Spanish minister speaks up

Last week, the Spanish Minister for Industry, Energy and Tourism, José Manuel Soria, criticised the introduction of tolls on the A22, saying the measure “goes against territorial cohesion, economic cooperation and tourism development and, therefore, against employment creation”.

Reinforcing the claims made by the Spanish minister, António Pina, president of the Algarve Tourism Board, said the region was losing thousands of Spanish tourists because of the tolls and hoped they would be suspended.

João Vasconcelos from the A22 Users’ Commission also applauded the position of the Spanish minister, which “gives us great hope in our fight against the tolls”.

The commission’s next protest action is expected to block the Guadiana international bridge but plans haven’t yet been finalised. It hopes the protest will attract more support from people than the last one on March 8 when a few dozen cars participated in a slow drive from Boliqueime to Faro.

Service stations struggle

Meanwhile, some service stations along the former Scut roads claim business is down by up to 60% since the introduction of tolls.

According to Correio da Manhã daily newspaper, Cepsa’s two service stations on the A22 have seen its business volume reduced by between 50% and 60%.

In December last year, when tolls were introduced, the A22 registered a fall in traffic of 48.1%, while other former Scut roads, A23, A24 and A25, recorded decreases of between 19.4% and 29.4% during the same month.

National road authority Estradas de Portugal believes traffic volume is down not only as a result of the tolls but also due to the economic crisis the country is going through.

Sign the Public Petition against the A22 tolls

The Algarve Resident has created a section on its website where the “public petition for the immediate suspension of tolls on the A22” can be read in English and visitors can be directed to the official petition page to sign it.

To read and sign the petition, just go to the home page and click on the tolls button on the right-hand side for a direct link to the petition registration page.

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