Motorway madness in Portugal
I have just returned from a business trip to Portugal with a potential fine of €27 (£25) and a possible Portuguese Police criminal record. So what was my crime? I hired a car from Hertz and drove it on the new motorway, paid for by an EU grant!
In September 2011 the EU imposed an austerity package on Portugal. This included putting high tolls on the excellent motorway system. But the Portuguese had never before charged motorway tolls, so there are no toll booths to be able to collect the money.
Under a directive from the EU, the Portuguese Government overcame this by installing cameras along the motorways, telling all Portuguese number plate motorists that they must pay the tolls. But how?
They must go to the Post Office after 2 days – but before 5 days, to pay cash.
Clearly this programme, like so many other mad EU schemes, will not work and especially for those hiring cars. The result is that no Portuguese driver uses the motorways. They are deserted, empty of traffic! But the ordinary roads are overloaded and the town centres are chaotic. The ordinary roads are breaking up, but road works are all cancelled because of the EU ‘austerity measures’. Business is suffering and the chances of economic recovery are receding.
But how does this affect me and any other visitors to Portugal this year? Well, I collected my rental car at 7 p.m. at the airport and drove to my hotel. Dutifully, 2 days later I went to the Post Office.
I asked what I owed for one short trip. The counter lady advised “Your car was used for three motorway journeys that day, you owe €9.90”. She wanted me to pay for the previous hirer who, quite logically, left on a plane earlier that day!
When I refused to pay for someone else’s tolls I was told “You will get a fine and a criminal record!”
She would not accept part payment – what I owed, so I left without paying anything.
But this left another problem. I still had to drive back to the airport on the motorway to return the car so how would I pay. I asked the staff at Hertz. Their advice was “It is best that you don’t use the motorway on the last 2 days of your stay in Portugal”. But the only way to get there and not miss my plane was to drive on the motorway.
At the airport I went to the Post Office. I asked to pay for the trip and she said “the system is crazy – you have to come back in two days to pay for it, because the scanning equipment does not advise us until then”! I left the Post Office unable to pay for the trip I had made.
When I handed the car back to Hertz, I told the manager what happened. He gloomily explained “Well, you will get a fine and a criminal citation in about 5 month’s time”.
So, my recommendations are:
Don’t travel to Portugal where EU austerity equals empty motorways, traffic chaos elsewhere, and an impossibly mad system for the collection of motorway tolls from overseas visitors.