By PAULO SILVESTRE [email protected]
As the new Government seems intent on introducing tolls on the remaining SCUT roads throughout Portugal, including the Algarve’s A22, from September, residents and tourists need to plan ahead in order to comply with the pricing structure.
A spokesman from Via Verde, the company responsible for automatic electronic toll charges, explained the payment procedures to the Algarve Resident, including a system of exemptions and discounts until the end of 2012.
“Residents and businesses will not have to pay for the first 10 trips in a month. After that, these users will receive a 15% discount for any other trips they make in the month. This will apply until the end of 2012.”
However, vehicles with foreign licence plates are not included in this exemption programme.
Via Verde payment devices, which will need to be installed in vehicles, are operational for all Portuguese motorways and will have a one-off cost of €27.50.
If users ask to receive their monthly payment receipts by email, the device will cost €25 at the time it is purchased.
“The devices are available in every Via Verde store, at motorway service areas and at post offices,” said the spokesman.
Visitors coming to the Algarve will have to pay a deposit of €27.50 to rent a device. For that they have to have a credit or debit card valid for more than 90 days and pay €6 for the first week. Longer stays will cost an additional €1.50 a week.
When leaving Portugal, they have to return the device “in good condition” to any Via Verde store in the country and, on production of their rental receipt, they will receive a refund of the deposit of €27.50.
A study by the University of the Algarve revealed that travelling a distance of 300km on the A22, including fuel and tolls, will cost about €51.
Meanwhile, tourism chiefs are not happy with the new Government’s decision, which they consider is an offence to the region.
Algarve Tourism Board President António Pina told the Algarve Resident: “My position about this matter stays the same as it was for the previous government of José Sócrates, who had the idea of charging to use the A22 ‘road’. This will be very damaging for the tourism sector and we will carry out studies to show the negative impact of tolls and how the region’s economy will be affected.”
The president of the Algarve hotels and tourist resorts association (AHETA), Elidérico Viegas, said: “Tolls will seriously affect tourism, which is the main income generator for the Algarve and a vital sector for the rest of the country.
“The EN125 is no alternative to the A22 and we will be forced back on the road of death, as it was called before the construction of the Via do Infante.”
Economically speaking, he said that local businesses will have to increase the cost of their products to make up for any losses resultant from this move.
“Local businesses have three alternatives: raise prices, cover the costs themselves or waste hours circulating on the EN125 road,” he said.
“In a time of crisis, when local tourism businesses should be supported financially, the Government imposes more taxes which will cause a loss of competitiveness against foreign markets.”
He added: “The revenue will not be enough to cover the losses. This Government has already shown a total lack of knowledge about the reality of the Algarve. With the introduction of tolls, our Spanish neighbours will stop visiting the region.”
The A22 users’ commission held a meeting to discuss new initiatives to continue the fight against the introduction of tolls.
João Vasconcelos, one of the founders of the group, told the Algarve Resident:
“We have discussed new ways to fight this move but nothing has been decided. We have scheduled another meeting for July 19 when we will continue debating ideas and hopefully decide on new actions for the future.”
Faro Mayor and AMAL (association of Algarve câmaras) president Macário Correia said: “Portugal has a democratic regime and democracy should prevail over Government arrogance.
“The Government does not respect the Algarve and its residents. We must all protest and collectively refuse to pay tolls. That will be the best way to raise our voices against injustice.”
A local resident, who asked not to be named, spoke to the Algarve Resident: “Will the payment of tolls help the country, the region or the road users? I would pay without protesting if I knew that the move would help to reduce the country’s deficit, would contribute to the development of the region and would help to maintain the A22.”
Do you have a view on this subject? Please email Editor Inês Lopes at [email protected]