Motorway Madness

You may remember from an earlier blog, when I was discussing about the New Motorway toll system, I said that the Portuguese government had delayed switching it on due to the elections. Well we had seen on the good old Internet that mid December 2011 they had switched it on.

The internet was full of very negative comments about how it was working, or more importantly how it wasn’t working and it was driving everyone back to the N roads. I won’t go into all the detail here, if you are really interested I am sure you can research using the Internet, but I will just note here the issues that faced us.

As addition to this I will say that by the middle of 2012 they have pretty much sorted all the problems and whilst there still is a lot of criticism on the prices I reckon they have sorted most of the operational issues.

For me however it was a taxing time, whilst I was happy “to go with the flow” on many of things, I was a bit concerned as I really didn’t want to get fined for none payment. I did try to phone the Via Verde as they advertised they had a English speaking hot line, and discussed the options available, none that really seemed to work for someone like me who was arriving on a flight and making use of a hire car. They did say I could call into the first service station on the A23 at Abrantes and there buy/rent a transponder device, or I could make use of the motorway and then visit the Corrieos (Post Office) and pay. Armed with this information I felt I could manage and ultimately if I got fined I could probably appeal. There seemed to be a lot of discussion on the Internet about this as well.

When I arrived at the airport and tracking down the car hire desks, no mean feat I can tell you, I found the Europcar / Easy Jet Car desk and did the business as they say to get the car. I did ask about the motorway tolls and a small leaflet was thrust into my hand with a shrugging of shoulders from the car hire agent. The leaflet was the best part of useless, it basically just said, there are tolls and you the hirer are expected to deal and pay, the hire company holds no responsibility, you know the usual helpful stuff.

It’s now about 8:30ish in the evening it took a further 15 minutes or so to check the car for damage and sign all the usual disclaimers. It was relatively easy to get out of Lisbon airport on to the A1 motorway and head north, couldn’t get that wrong as the motorway only really goes north, if you went south you would probably end up in the water.

Heading up the A1 was easy, the first section is toll free and when it does get to where it is chargeable there are manned toll booths. So I picked up a ticket and continued on towards Torres Novas where I knew I would have to turn on to the A23 and the new electronic toll system.

It took about an hour to get to the turning, which was clearly marked, just after the turn off there was a toll booth, where I could settle the account for the A1. Almost immediately, well just round a corner the motorway proudly announces that you are now on the new electronic toll system road. Ok so armed with the information gained before I left I headed to the Service station at Abrantes passing under a couple of the overhead gantry’s that were busily taking my picture, Smile for the camera 🙂 . It wasn’t long before I started to realize that I seemed to be the only motorist on the motorway, there was not a car or lorry in sight either way. Hum, maybe this was a mistake.

I continued on until I located the Abrantes service station, I pulled into the service area, everything seemed to be in half darkness, and there was just one other solitary car parked under the canopies. I parked up near the “amenities”; you know what I am talking about as by now I needed them, after making myself more comfortable I surveyed the place, there was a self-service type building, closed! There was a fuel shop, the shutters slowly closing. Quick I thought dashing around to the other side and gaining entry. Again surveying around the shop, Via Verde? Motorway taxes? Tolls? Nope nuffin. As I have pushed my way in I felt I had to buy something and I was short on water as of course, I couldn’t bring any with me and I shouldn’t be drinking tap water, I think. I brought a large bottle of water and some crisps and whilst paying tried to ask about the Tolls! In English to a Portuguese person, who works in a fuel station! Your get the picture, was never going to happen was it?

Oh well! never mind back in car an press on to the hotel, more about that is another blog, but just to finish the motorway toll debacle the next day I drove into Castelo Branco, found the Corrieos (Post Office), worked out the queuing system, which wasn’t working and eventually got to the counter. Lucky for me the person behind the counter did understand a bit of English and with my hand gestures and very poor Portuguese plus the assistance of a passing local, I managed to work out that it took at least 2 days for the motorway tolls incurred to get from the motorway system to get across to the billing system.

A couple of days later I revisited the Corrieos and was able to pay the toll I had accrued on the way down. If I remember it was about €14 which is quiet expensive but cheaper than a €100+ fine.

The issue was now how to get back on Wednesday, if I use the motorway to get back to the airport in Lisbon to catch a flight the same day and it takes 2 days for the fee to get onto the system, how do I cover that?  A dilemma I am sure that faced a lot of travelers.

I took the ultimate decision as I did not want to incur a fine, to take the N roads back, even though it was likely to take at least 2 extra hours and even after reading that there were thousands of people with the same issue and fines were just not being paid, after all what else did I have to do? I have to say at the end of it I actually really enjoyed the drive back, it was far more interesting than the motorway.

So that’s it until the next trip. I hope they sort something soon.

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