As if driving in Europe isn’t difficult enough for us Brits with them all driving on the WRONG side of the road, some devious countries are making it even harder by introducing road policies that make you wonder whether it’s worth it! For example Cyprus law means that if you’re motorcycling you have to have a helmet with you but you don’t need to wear it. Now comes news that Portugal has introduced toll roads where it’s all but impossible to pay.
So how has that come about? Do you remember the days when the council would lay a beautiful stretch of tarmac road only for the water board to come along a week later and dig it up putting an ugly uneven patch over it? Well that’s kind of the reverse logic the Portuguese have managed.
For years there were toll roads with toll booths and free roads, including many motorways where obviously toll booths were unnecessary. With the dawn of austerity, the Portuguese Ministry of Transport decided that a great way to make money would be to charge a toll on those, up to now free, motorways. Now you’d think the first thing to do is to build some toll booths but this is Portugal so you join a toll motorway and after being puzzled by the lack of toll booths, head nonchalantly on your way. You get to the end and think ‘Hey, maybe it wasn’t a toll road after all. The next thing you know you get a bill from the hire car company plus potentially a penalty from the Ministry for paying it late. Instead of toll booths, the motorways are lined with cameras that read your number plate every few miles and charge you according to the distance travelled. As an indication, you are looking at around 20 euros for the journey from Lisbon to Porto, around 200 miles, so it’s around 10c a mile.
So what can you do to unravel this bureaucratic mess? Some car hire companies suggest you leave an open credit card number with them and they’ll take the fees when they’re asked – don’t forget the penalty here for you must pay within five days. If you’re not happy having an unlimited amount taken from your card the alternative is to pay at a Pay Shop or a CTT post office or maybe pay even more to hire a box called a Via Verde (available from your car rental agent) that allows the toll to be taken automatically from your credit card as you pass along the toll road.
The difficulty with hire cars is that if the previous hirer hasn’t paid, you can’t unless you agree to pay their tolls too and that’s on top of trying to find these Pay Shops or post offices which seem to be neatly hidden away.
Don’t worry though for you aren’t the only ones likely to complain as the Spanish government has lodged a complaint with the Portuguese government saying that it causes their lorry drivers difficulties and is against the rules of fair trade. It might be worth pointing out the obvious here that Spain also charges tolls yet they seem to think the problem isn’t there in reverse?
So are there any other alternatives?
The best way to avoid the hassle is to avoid the motorways completely and use the parallel non toll roads instead. You’ve only got to remember to avoid numbers A22-A25 then A28 and A29, the rest cause no problems. The flipside though is that everyone is doing this and so the motorways remain devoid of traffic whilst the free roads are jammed. Obviously the situation can’t continue and the Portuguese government are undertaking a review of the mess. Watch this space for more details but in the meantime, if you hire a car in Portugal
, ask the rental agent when you pick it up, what is their policy on tolls as these vary from agent to agent.