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New toll on Algarve motorway A22

Today is the first day for the new toll on the A22 road in Portugal. This is the continuation of the Sevilla-Huelva motorway, the A49, after it crosses the bridge over the river Guadiamar after Ayamonte, and carries on into the Algarve. Many residents of western Andalucia are up in arms, not least because they will have to pay to use the motorway in neighbouring Portugal, with its wonderful beaches. But most people are annoyed because of the lack of information, and the complicated charging system, which I will try to explain here. The name of the toll collection system is Via Verde, whose logo is a white V on a green background - look out for it on signs and in shops. The details were only published on the government's website, and in the state newspaper, Diario da Republica, on Monday. This is because the president passed the highly controversial new legislation which introduced the tolls just a few weeks ago, after months delays - since the PM resigned in April. Which explains the mass of last-minute misinformation. This is not a toll road where you pay directly at a booth, which is why it's so unfathomably hard to get concrete facts on who will have to pay what, where, when and how. Therefore, because of all the conflicting reports, it could well be that I don't get all my facts right right in this post (nobody's perfect, not even me). In which case, please let me know and I will try to produce a correct and comprehensive guide. A shining beacon of light in the murky darkness of Portuguese administrative chaos. First of all, the widespread rumour - as seen on some ill-informed expat websites - that you will have to pay 77 euros every time to cross the border into Portugal is WRONG because a) that fee is for lorry drivers, and b) the toll starts at Vila Real/Castro Marim (junction 9 if you have an older map which calls the road the E-01/IP1; junction 18 if it says A22). So, in theory, you could cross the bridge into Portugal and then leave the motorway on the first exit (to Vila Real de San Antonio, the first town over the border, which sits across the Guadiamar river from Ayamonte on the Spanish side) when you get into Portugal - the N122 road, which then links up with the N125. (This road runs parallel to the coast, and is therefore more picturesque, but also busier and slower, especially in the summer. Also, it won't be able to cope with the increased traffic, and accidents are bound to increase.) And you're on the Algarve scot-free, so to speak. If you only go to the Algarve occasionally, and do want to use the motorway, short-term pre-pay schemes are available. A three-day pass costs 20 euros. You can make the payment using your matricula at a Portuguese post office (CTT), at Via Verde pay shops, at some airports, or at certain petrol stations in motorway service areas such as the one in Olhao (although according to some sources, this will be introduced later on). The rate charged for using the motorway is 0.07 or 0.08c/km, which works out at 8.89 euros for the 127km stretch from Vila Real on the Spanish border, at the eastern end of the Algarve, to Lagos in the west. If you're not a Portuguese resident but you travel on the A22 regularly - or if you don't want the hassle of paying at a post office every time - you will you probably want to rent a temporary dispositivo electronico (DE, electronic transponder device), for a refundable deposit of 27.50 euros. This charges you every time you pass a toll point. The rental charge is 6 euros for the first week and 1.50 euros for each week hereafter. The device can be rented for up to 90 days, and then re-rented. When you buy the DE, your details are taken - matricula, DNI, bank card number etc - so you they can charge you every time you use the road. Those who are visiting the Algarve on holiday and renting a car (all rental cars will be fitted with transponders) will have to pay at post offices or Via Verde pay shops. For more information, talk to your car hire company. Although my bet is, they won't have much of a clue either. Legally registered Algarve residents can pay a reduced fee - these don't apply to part-time residents - until the end of June 2012. Apparently, these reductions don't apply to business users. The Portuguese government obviously needs to fill its coffers, to sort out its economic situation, but driving away one of its main sources of income - the tourists, especially ones from Spain - seems barmy to me. Like Andalucia, the Algarve has the highest unemployment in the country, so fewer visitors is the last thing it needs right now. Not to mention the other way round - many Portuguese come to Andalucia as visitors. If you have used the new system - on a trip to the Algarve during the December puente, for example - please let me know how you paid, and whether it was straightforward/clearly explained/enough to put you off using the motorway ever again.
Blog published on 8 December 2011