Why tolls don’t work…

Dear Editor,

I’m afraid that Alastair Tait’s “alternative view” of the tolls (Algarve Resident January 4) is highly rose-tinted and blind to the harm they are causing. He sees the situation from the visitor’s point of view and is evidently not aware of certain facts which affect those who live here all the time. Chief amongst the latter is that the tolls are costing the country money. They are not making money, they are losing it and adding to the country’s already huge debt. As an income earner, they are a total failure – except for the toll concession holders whom the government has committed itself (and us tax-payers) to pay regardless of toll receipts. The tolls are not, as Mr Tait supposes, a tax that swells the nation’s coffers, they are an expense that drains them.

In the middle of last year a report was published by the Tribunal de Contas (Court of Auditors) saying that the setting up of tolls on the former “Scut” (free) motorways had cost the tax-payer €700 million. Later in the year, Estradas de Portugal reported that the A22 toll system had made a loss of €20 million in its first six months of operation (December 8 2011 to June 8 2012). So we know of a cost so far of €720 million. We have yet to be told whether any of this was recovered in the second six months of tolls or whether the debt is now even higher.

These costs stem largely from the particular form of Private-Public Partnership (PPP) arranged by the then PS government with the full parliamentary support – indeed encouragement – of the PSD, then inopposition. This ensures the toll concession holders a guaranteed income whatever the toll receipts and requires the tax payer to make up any shortfall. In office, the PSD has done little to unscramble this disadvantageous arrangement. The whole procedure smacks of collusion and corruption. It would be interesting to know who are the actual individuals who are profiting from the arrangement.

Another fact that Mr Tait’s view appears not to have noticed is that the majority of Algarveans cannot afford the tolls and have therefore deserted the motorway in droves, thus of course reducing the income for the government and wasting one of the great assets the region has. A major traffic artery which has been such a boon and boost to the economy of the region and such an improvement for travel and transport is now hugely under-used. Instead of boosting the economy the tolls are damaging it.

The A22 was built, with European Union money, to provide a faster and safer public highway for travel and transport from one end of the Algarve to the other. It was needed because the EN125 had become acongested deathtrap and it has been a hugely helpful and successful improvement – until now. It was intended for the use of the public as a whole not, as Mr Tait evidently sees it, as a superior travel option available only to those who can afford to pay the extra cost.

It was designed to be an addition and enhancement of the whole state-funded road network of the region – not as a money raiser for the government. To tax it as opposed to other roads is totally arbitrary. It would be more rewarding, albeit more difficult, to tax the EN125. It makes no economic sense to tax traffic off the most beneficial and useful road in the Algarve. It would be easier, fairer and more effective to increase the Imposto Sobre Veículos (Road Tax) by a euro or two if more revenue is needed.

The whole tolls fiasco is a disastrous and damaging mistake. It is failing in what it was intended to do, costing the country a lot of money and having a hugely negative affect on the economic and social life of the region. Continuing with it is sheer stubborn lunacy. Any halfway conscientious government would scrap the system forthwith.

Norman Walker