I am sitting in a rented apartment in Alvor, perhaps for the last time ever, wrestling with how to get back to the Airport at Faro after our holiday without falling foul of the A22 tolls.
We have been coming here at least once a year (sometimes for a month at a time) for the last nine years and on our latest trip we arrived at Faro on February 26, picked up a hire car from Europcar (as we usually do) but were not told about the new tolls on the A22 (and as we were last on the Algarve during February 2011, were not aware of them).
On the motorway we saw the toll signs and on reaching the Alvor exit expected a toll booth or payment machine, but finding neither, we concluded that the toll signs must be in readiness for a scheme not yet started and to start soon.
However, some days later we drove to Guia where someone told us we had to go to the post office to pay.
We looked online and found a site where we put in the car registration number and discovered we now owed €28.
We rang Europcar at Faro and they insisted that they did tell every driver about the tolls (they didn’t tell us!) and that we must go and pay the toll or face a fine.
We asked what we should do about the return trip and were told to avoid the motorway and use the EN125. I then found a Europcar online help address and emailed for guidance. This was their reply:
“This year, the rental companies will install the electronic device in all cars. By now it’s necessary to go to a post office and indicate the rental period you want to assume, in order to avoid previous unpaid tolls.”
Not very helpful!
Next we went to the post office, gave our registration number, explained that we had arrived in Portugal on the 26th and had only driven on the A22 from Faro to Alvor. She said she could only tell us the toll due for that date and it was clear we had travelled the journey twice. She could not tell us what time these trips were made, only on that date and the total cost.
We ended up having to pay more than €12 for a journey she said should be just under €6. Perhaps the person who previously hired the car made the journey to the airport that day and didn’t pay? There was no mention of the €28 so maybe most of that was before February 26.
We will go to the post office again to pay for our trip to Guia but will avoid the motorway on our journey back to Faro rather than allow the hire car to reclaim the toll charge, and perhaps a fine as well, from the credit card we used for the hire car arrangement.
On the internet it looks as though the 46 minute journey on the motorway will take us over two hours by the N125 … needless to say that this will be our last trip to the Algarve.
It’s just too much hassle, when we can discover other resorts on the Iberian Peninsula which offer warm winter sunshine and no toll nonsense.
The issue has two components: one is the question of whether users should have to pay and the other is how they should pay.
The first component is attracting a great deal of debate, but the second also deserves consideration.
An American acquaintance of mine found himself on the A22 by mistake the day after the tolls had been introduced. By the time he had understood that he could pay at the Post Office it was too late.
Subsequent visits to the Post Office finally yielded the telephone number of the tolls company, and after a number of telephone calls he was told how much he owed. However, he was told that he could not pay it immediately, but had to wait for the registered letter to arrive.
He also learnt that whereas the user only has a window of five days to pay, the tolls company has four years in which to exact payment! (during which time the penalties accumulate). It must surely be against every principle of natural law to have a debt against one, while at the same time being denied the means to discharge it!