The four-year debate on the rights and wrongs of charging tolls on formerly free SCUT highways took a decisive turn for some kind of home straight yesterday with a proposal to reduce charges on the A22 in the Algarve, the A23(between Torres Novas and Guarda), A24 (Viseu-Vila Real), A25 (Aveiro-Guarda) and A4 (Matosinhos-Quintanilha) being passed by all left-wing parties.
But what was not made clear in initial reports was the fact that toll reductions “may not benefit drivers using every section of the motorways”.
The ‘sting in the tail’ – particularly in the Algarve where toll opposition has been virulent – is that reductions may only come for drivers using the “totality of the road”, that is from one end of it to another.
In other words, there could be no benefits at all for residents who want to use the motorway to get from A to B locally.
This nitty-gritty bottom line was fudged as much as possible yesterday, with a ministry of infrastructure source simply saying nothing yet was certain and “various solutions are still under analysis”.
Thus how soon the reductions – whatever they may be – come into force is also up in the air.
According to reports in the media, government sources have said they will be applied “in the shortest time possible”, which everyone is taking to mean this summer in time for the peak of the tourist season.
What yesterday’s voting did show however was a baffling duplicity of politicians who had previously supported toll reductions.
Former prime minister Pedro Passos Coelho had pledged that his party would reduce tolls as soon as (or as it happened, if) his government was returned to power in last October’s elections (click here).
But with the tables now turned and a left wing alliance in control, the PSD yesterday voted against the government proposal to bring down charges, with all sorts of party-political back-biting playing out over which party had been responsible for turning the formerly free highways into tolled roads in the first place.
One of the high-points of the debate came when Algarve MP and fervent anti-tolls campaigner João Vasconcelos stood up in a reflective vest with the words “A22 tolls forbidden”.
Beseeching members of the house to “have respect for the people who elected them”, he called the persistence of tolls “an immorality and injustice” – stressing that despite the high level of accidents suffered in the Algarve as a result of drivers remaining on a free EN125 that is not fit for purpose, the State is actually subsidising the A22 to a tune of €40 million per year.
Vasconcelos also alluded to the fact that the “summer is almost upon us”, yet roadworks on the EN125 continue, rendering the already dreadful road “an authentic misery”.