It is the latest chapter of the Algarve’s long-running battle against motorway tolls. Portugal’s Left Bloc party (BE) has proposed implementing a special tourist tax that would generate revenue to compensate the state for abolishing the Algarve’s A22 motorway tolls. In other words, it would be used as a new source of income for the government to support the road’s maintenance costs instead of burdening road users with tolls.
The measure was presented by the left-wing party during last week’s 2018 State Budget debate.
The tax would be charged on overnight stays at hotels, local lodging properties and short-term house rentals in the region’s 16 boroughs.
It would be charged at the rate of 1.5% to 2.5% of the total bill, excluding VAT. Any money left over would be used to carry out improvements on the Algarve’s roads and railways.
It is a proposal that has naturally pleased the region’s anti-toll group CUVI, led by Algarve MP for the party João Vasconcelos.
But, as expected, the proposal has not been well-received by some of the Algarve’s top figures.
Tourism boss Desidério Silva says he is “clearly against” the measure, saying it would create “a negative buzz around the Algarve tourism sector which is still trying to become sustainable all year long”.
Jorge Botelho, president of the Algarve municipalities association (AMAL) and Tavira mayor, also opposes the idea. “It doesn’t make sense to create a tax or levy just to pay the road’s concession company,” he says.
As readers may recall, Monchique mayor Rui André suggested a similar idea back in May which involved a tourist tax of €1 charged by all officially registered hotels, guesthouses and hostels.
“It would be a symbolic sum paid for by tourists,” he told Correio da Manhã.
But he does not agree with BE’s proposal as it would represent “another tax” for companies to pay.
Meantime, CUVI is back on the attack.
It has released a statement saying that the discussion of the 2018 State Budget is a “good opportunity” for the state to do away with the tolls once and for all.
“Besides the serious damage caused (by the tolls) which continues to affect the economy and mobility of the region, one of the most harmful aspects are the numerous road accidents on the EN125 which has turned into a dangerous urban road plagued with death traps,” the group says.
The group points out how the EN125 renovations between Olhão and Vila do Bispo have failed to move forward and traffic on some parts of the road between Odiáxere and Pêra is “unbearable” due to the works underway in Figueira, Norinha, Penina, the Lagoa International School and Pêra.
“The Algarve does not deserve such offence, injustice and discrimination from the government”.
CUVI adds that over 9,600 road accidents have been registered in the Algarve since the start of the year, killing 27 and seriously injuring 167, mostly on the EN125.
“The Algarve is going to end the year with over 10,000 accidents just like last year.”
Tolls only cover 43% of motorway costs
Meantime, a report revealed earlier this month shows that revenue from the A22’s motorway tolls doesn’t even cover half of the state’s costs with the road.
The data was revealed by UTAP, the entity that studies public-private partnerships.
It revealed that toll income was €14.8 million in the first half of 2017, which only covered 43.5% of the contracted amount the state has to pay Via do Infante’s private concession company.
According to CUVI, this means that the state had to pay another €19.2 million to make up the €32 million that the concession company was due.
“This is nearly €40 million that taxpayers are charged every year and which goes straight into the pockets of private institutions,” the anti-toll group said.
In spite of this, UTAP found that the A22 is the second motorway in Portugal that has the largest share of its costs covered by revenue from tolls.
State lost €13 million from toll price reduction
Since taking power, the socialist government led by António Costa has always claimed it “cannot afford” to remove the tolls from the A22.
Trying to prove this point once again, Infrastructure Minister Pedro Marques has said that the government lost €13 million after cutting toll charges in the centre of Portugal and on Via do Infante last year.
The silver lining, he said, is that the users of the road were able to save €24 million.
The 15% price reduction was carried out on August 1, 2016 on five Portuguese motorways – the Algarve’s A22 and the A4, A23, A24 and A25 highways in the centre/north of the country.
Marques added that the cost reduction has led to greater mobility in the regions with more people using the motorways than before.
BY MICHAEL BRUXO
Photo: LUÍS FORRA/LUSA