Eavesdropping – Tourists And Tolls

I know it’s impolite to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations; however, on a recent flight to the UK I was prompted to tune in to a discussion between a couple of golfing tourists and local residents. The conversation turned from the intricacies of the “ifs” and “buts” of golf to the recent introduction of tolls on the A22 Motorway. For those unfamiliar with the Algarve the A22 Motorway can best be described as the main artery, linking the Algarve from the Spanish/Portuguese border in the east to the towns in the west.

The introduction of the tolls on the 8th December 2011 resulted in protest demonstrations, criminal damage to the cameras, and at one point twenty-four hour police surveillance was mounted at each gantry along the A22 to protect the cameras and equipment. Even a police officer was injured when a disgruntled protester took a pot-shot at one of the offending cameras. The motorway was paid for by the EU and has always been free to use.The only alternative route is the N125 and is aptly named the “Road of Death” due to the high number of accidents and poor road surface.

Judging from the conversation, I gathered that the resident couple, who looked in their early thirties, lived in Portimão in the Algarve and the others were elderly golfers who had been holidaying there for over 20 years. Tourism is the lifeblood of the Algarve so I was particularly interested to listen to the views of long-term tourists.

As their conversation turned from golf to more general matters the subject of tolls was raised by the couple from Portimão. “Did you use the A22 Motorway during your stay?” they asked almost a little too casually.

“Yes, it was surprisingly empty!” replied one of the golfers.

“That’s because of those damn toll charges.”

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“What tolls? The motorway is free!” retorted the golfers almost in unison.

“Not any more it ain’t mate.”

Silence as the golfers digested this information.

“We never saw any toll booths,” they retaliated, thinking this was probably some kind of sick early morning joke, designed to wind them up.

“There aren’t any,” said the young couple from Portimão as they looked knowingly at each other.

There was a sharp intake of breath by the golfers. “This is absolutely ridiculous! How can you pay tolls if there aren’t any toll booths? You’ve got to be joking!”

“You pay at the Post Office,” replied the young man from Portimão.

“What do you mean you pay at the Post Office?” The golfer’s tone was incredulous. “We drove along the A22 to the airport at the crack of dawn this morning. It’s only just after eight now. Besides, where would we find a post office round here?”

“You get a friend to pay otherwise you will be fined and the buggers deduct it from your credit card.”

I sensed the golfers increased agitation at the stupidity of such a suggestion.

“What do you mean, get a friend to pay?” asked one golfer. “Unlike you, we are on holiday and we don’t have any friends who live here!”

The young guy from Portimão shrugged his shoulders. “That’s the only option mate, unless your car hire people installed a transponder gizmo in the hire car, which I very much doubt.”

The golfer’s response was as I expected. “Great! That’s just bloody great. What a stupid system!”

I nodded my head in agreement. I was tempted to add that even if you had friends in the Algarve who were willing to pay the toll on your behalf they had to wait 48 hours before the toll was registered. Plus, if there were other tolls already outstanding on the car, they had to pay those before they could pay yours. So a simple toll of a couple of euros could end up costing you ten times that amount. In addition, there were also reports of people queuing at post offices for several hours. What a stupid, ill thought out system!

I was jolted from my thoughts as one of the golfers, now red in the face, angrily replied. “Well, we don’t come on holiday for a load of aggro, we come on holiday to relax and enjoy the golf. We‘re not wasting our precious holiday standing in queues. Don’t mind paying our way, but who ever thought of this half-baked idea needs committing to the nearest asylum. Ludicrous absolutely ludicrous!”

It was at this point other holiday makers, who were obviously also eavesdropping on their conversation, joined in. Totally ignorant of the tolls they suddenly realised their credit cards could be raided by the car hire companies as they attempted to collect outstanding tolls and fines.

The discussion became heated and finally ended with.

“Been golfing here for twenty years, be another twenty before I come again. Time for a change! Plenty of other golfing destinations.”

I sighed, what a great shame the powers-that-be could not have implemented a more user friendly method of collecting tolls.

On returning to the UK I mentioned the new toll system to my brother-in-law, another long-term golfing tourist to the Algarve, to gauge his reaction. He was horrified and his response was very much as the golfers’ comments above, but also added “Turkey was seen by many at his golf club as the ‘New Algarve’”.

Time will tell if this bizarre method of collecting tolls will drive (pardon the pun) tourists away. As for residents they receive ten free trips per months until 30th June.

After that, we will see.

The motorway is now deserted and one wonders what long term impact the tolls will have – not only on the tourist industry, but also local people and businesses that use the motorway for quick and easy access along the Algarve.

Further information about Scut motorways and tolls is available at http://www.estradas.pt/portagenstrocos

Will tourists who want the freedom to explore by car still flock to the Algarve or indeed other areas of Portugal?

What is your opinion or experience? Please leave your comments below.

To discover more about everyday life in Portugal visit my blog Piglet in Portugal or follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/portugalpiglet

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