Toll exemptions “go against” European legislation

By INÊS LOPES [email protected]

An indication that tolls on the Algarve’s A22 are here to stay, at least for the next few months, came after the government announced that resident toll exemptions would be extended for another three months.

To the discontent of the Algarve population, the tolls have not been suspended even temporarily during the summer. The government has not only decided to continue with the measure but it has also failed to produce the results of a study into the impact of the tolls on the region, as promised by the Minister of Economy, Álvaro Santos Pereira.

Toll exemptions, which were due to end on June 30, will now continue until the end of September allowing local residents and business owners 10 free trips a month on the motorway.

The government appears to have given in to pressure from the Algarve Câmaras Association (AMAL) and main political forces, who had requested the extension of the toll exemption period. However it ignored the calls from the region’s main anti-toll activists, who continue to defend the suspension of the tolls.

João Vasconcelos from the A22 Users’ Commission (CUVI) says the government’s latest decision is “merely a palliative measure” for the problem and has, “in no way”, changed their views.

The CUVI member accused the government of “shamelessly lying” to the Algarve population for failing to produce the results of a study it had promised to release.

He said: “We are still waiting to know what the economic impact of the tolls has been on the Algarve, as was promised by the government months ago.”

According to a statement from the Ministry of Economy, at the end of September “a regime of toll discounts and/or tariffs will be approved and implemented conforming with European legislation on the issue and which will guarantee that the toll charging system won’t result in discriminatory practises.”

João Vasconcelos said this should have already been done. “The government has no option but to end these benefits for residents, as this exemptions policy goes against EU legislation,” he said.

Toll payment systems

Meanwhile, equipment providing a new electronic toll payment system, specifically developed for drivers of foreign plated vehicles, is now in operation at the Guadiana International Bridge.

National road authority Estradas de Portugal announced this week that the new machines had been installed and were now being tested, during an “experimental phase”.

The system has been set up to help foreigners pay for the electronic tolls at the former free-for-users SCUT roads, such as the A22, which connects Vila Real de Santo António to Lagos.

The new payment system, called “easy toll”, is expected to make paying for the electronic tolls easier and quicker for drivers in foreign-registered vehicles. They will be able to register with the system without stepping out of the vehicle.

The new equipment allows for the registration of the driver’s bank card and its association to the number plate, which is be photographed by an automatic device.

The operation should take a few seconds, does not require the bank card’s pin number and a ticket serving as proof of payment is issued by the machine.

Multilingual staff has also been hired to help foreigners pay for the electronic tolls.

Estradas de Portugal said it was also preparing to launch the ‘toll card’ system, which is also aimed at drivers in foreign plated vehicles. It will be a pre-charged card that drivers purchase and activate by sending a text message. The process will associate the card to the car’s number plate.

“The card will be purchasable online or at the post office, motorway service stations and other outlets, including abroad, which are yet to be confirmed,” said the entity.

The toll card is expected to be introduced in the next few weeks, however a date has not been confirmed.