A slow-moving line of honking vehicles made its way along the EN125 on Monday afternoon, blocking traffic while highlight the demands of the Via do Infante users’ group, CUVI, that the Algarve motorway tolls should be lifted.
The protest began at 3.30 pm at Quatro Estradas in Loulé and finished two and a half hours later in Lagoa, some 40 kilometres distance.
The line of vehicles, around two dozen, caused disruption to the traffic flow along the EN125 but was seen by CUVI "as important and necessary to end the collection of tolls on the Via do Infante," which the group sees as, "no alternative to the EN125."
"This protest is another demonstration that the fight against the tolls will continue until the government reverses the situation and decides to end the collection of motorway tolls on the Via do Infante," said local Left Wing MP, João Vasconcelos, who also is the leader of CUVI.
The slow march "is a way of telling the Government that there is already so much tragedy on the EN125, with more than ten thousand accidents registered.
"It is a tragedy that has to stop and, in our opinion, lifting the tolls on the Via do Infante would reduce road traffic on the EN125 and increase the safety of those who have to drive along it," said Vasconcelos.
The Left Bloc MP stressed that "the fight will continue, with a request for a hearing with the President of the Republic and with the prime minister being scheduled."
Vasconcelos also considered that the Algarve tolls, which have been in effect since 2011, "act as a brake on the development of the Algarve, negatively affecting tourism which is the main driver of the regional and national economy," and for this he has the ringing endorsement of many Algarve businesses, associations and other groups.
"The Algarve loses competitiveness in tourism - the Government has to reverse the situation and end the tolls," concluded Vasconcelos who was leading CUVI before becoming a MP and who has taken the fight into the heart of parliament.
Many MPs now agree that the only beneficiary of the tolls system is the Spanish-owned infrastructure company that benefits from the toll income and a subsidy paid by the general taxpayer to make up for the inevitable drop in traffic volume when the tolls were introduced.
The government did reduce the toll rate last summer but as the Algarve’s motorway toll rate was set at the highest level in the country, the drop has brought the tolls down to levels comparable to other formerly 'free to use' motorways.
The Via do Infante was paid for largely with European Community development funds and when the government signed the concession agreement in 2011 to enable tolls to be charged, secret clauses were inserted to prevent losses for the concession holder.
The fact that parts of a public contract has remained shrouded in secrecy has done little to calm protestors who suspect, as do much of the electorate, that the one-sided agreement was signed after illicit cash payments had been made to government officials.
As no mortal is allowed to see the content of the agreement, we may never know what induced officials to sign the document as the deal most certainly is not in the best interests of the taxpayer.