Time for an update. I'd love to know how a tourist returning a hire car at Faro Airport, and flying out a few hours later, is supposed to pay the toll! http://www.theportugalnews.com/
The Portugal News wrote:
Toll and trouble; 14/1/2012
Little over a month has passed since the introduction of tolls on the four previously free motorways, including the A22 in the Algarve. But time appears to have done little to solve a series of doubts and problems that have arisen since 8 December. Some certainties have however come to the fore; the EN125 has become a traffic congestion nightmare, even in low-season, more accidents have been reported, commuters are spending more time behind the wheel and companies have been forced to lay-off workers. The A22, on the other hand, has seen traffic drop by at least 60 percent according to early and generous estimates, with the government so far collecting very little from tolls.
Commuters in the Algarve were dealt a serious blow this week when the Loulé Fiscal and Administrative court ruled against an injunction filed against the charging of tolls on the Algarve’s A22. The complaint was lodged in early December by the Commission of A22 Road Users, stating that tolls on the motorway were unconstitutional as they had not been approved by a parliamentary majority. The Commission further argued the A22 had been incorrectly classified as a motorway, as a large stretch of the road was built with EU funds. But the court was not convinced, and set a precedent by ruling tolls on the A22 were perfectly within the law. “This decision is important, as had the court ruled in favour of the injunction, the agreement between A22 concessionary Euroscut and the Government would have been rocked to its very foundations”, explained the PLMJ law firm which represents Euroscut. The Commission has meanwhile said it will continue to find new ways of contesting tolls, explaining it will not surrender its cause until the A22 is declared a free motorway once more.
But with tolls set to become a fixture for the foreseeable future in the Algarve, a series of growing pains have emerged which seem far from having an easy solution. Since last year, The Portugal News has been inundated with requests from readers abroad seeking clarification on how to pay for tolls when hiring a car during an intended visit to the Algarve. A problem which emanates from the fact that none of the car rental firms have fitted their vehicles with electronic transponders. The official line is that foreign tourists using the A22 in a hired car can pay for their trips at a CTT Post Office after 48 hours of using the motorway, but within five working days. However, a tourist who spends four days in the Algarve, arriving Friday and leaving the next Monday morning, is impeded from paying his dues.
Motorway operators Brisa and Euroscut, both explained to The Portugal News this week that what happens when five working days have elapsed and payment is yet is to be received, a payment request for the overdue tolls, along with an administration fee, is sent on to the registered owner of the vehicle, in this case, the car hire company. The particular car hire firm then supplies the motorway operator with an electronic copy of the rental contract, and the address of the person who hired the vehicle. A notification is then sent to tourist’s address abroad. It is unclear what time limit is given to pay for these tolls, and what payment methods are used. Both the Euroscut and Brisa help lines said their inability to explain these intricacies was a result of the procedure still being new. The owner of a large Algarve-based car hire firm, who preferred to remain anonymous, told The Portugal News that his belief was that motorway operators were actually writing off the usage of the A22 by foreign tourists travelling in a rent-a-car as a bad debt. Furthermore, he said it was virtually impossible to force these clients to pay once they had left the country, as they could later allege they had changed address or never received a letter requesting payment or the details contained on the rental contract were incorrect. Euroscut, who insisted foreign residents were being chased for unpaid tolls, said the letters requesting payment being sent abroad are being sent out solely in English, “as it is a universally spoken language.” But a tourist from any other nationality, and whose English or Portuguese is not up to scratch, might experience difficulty in understanding the contents of a letter sent to their respective addresses.
Local residents, however, are receiving completely different treatment. Long overdue tolls are reportedly being eventually handed over to the taxman, who has been given the authority to even seize the vehicle of a transgressing Portuguese-registered vehicle. The Portugal News was this week handed a copy of an invoice sent out by Ascendi, which operates a number of motorways, including the previous toll-free A23 and A24 routes. A statement sent to a motorist who had not paid a toll fee of €3.50, climbed to over €30 due to a €26.67 administrative cost, followed by an €87.50 fine should the toll be paid within 15 days of the notification. Refusal to comply with this order, said the invoice, would result in the total cost of the €3.50 toll soaring to €205.17.
Another cost of tolls on the A22 can be seen along the motorway’s now deserted fuel stations. Even thieves are staying away. These once hotspots for hold-ups, have not reported a single incident since the introduction of tolls. Last Thursday at around 11am, staff at the Lagos fuel station told The Portugal News it had been their first customers, while the fuel stations at Loulé have reportedly sent three-quarters of their staff to join dole queues at job centres due to the chronic lack of business.
Ordinary people have also been forced to face enormous difficulties in commuting to and from work, an unheard of problem for the Algarve until now. Every weekday long-term resident Irene Vitorino, who lives in Portimão and works in Albufeira, travels an 80 kilometre roundtrip on the EN125, which was commonly referred to as Europe’s deadliest road prior to the completion of the A22. Reluctant to use the A22 motorway “because of the cost”, it means not only does she now spend more time on the road, but also sees less of her family. Leaving home earlier and arriving home later makes it a longer day for all. “I always did go on the motorway and it would take me about 35 minutes to get to work. Now it takes anything between 50 minutes and an hour”, she said. “The traffic coming home in the evening is much worse than in the morning, especially coming through Lagoa”, she explains, adding: “Every single day I see an accident on the EN125.” Leaving home on average 20 minutes earlier and arriving home at least half an hour later than she used to means Mrs. Vitorino is also later picking her daughter up after school. “It makes it a long day for her as well.” Mrs. Vitorino says she would still consider using the motorway if the tolls were cheaper. “I already pay a lot of money for petrol and it would be a lot more on top of that. About an extra €100 a month”, she concludes.
A number of companies located in the central Algarve contacted by The Portugal News confirmed similar scenes of congestion in areas between Almancil and Vilamoura, explaining that collisions on the EN125 are becoming an increasingly common sight. But extreme congestion on the EN125 has been avoided as local residents who have paid €27.50 for a transponder are entitled to ten free trips on the A22 each month, followed by a 15 percent discount for the remainder of the calendar month, affording them the occasional luxury of travelling on the Algarve’s only motorway. This though, will change in a few months, as the cash-strapped government has confirmed these ten free trips and discounts will be done away with at the start of the summer holiday season on 30 June.