The normal business of the Municipal Assembly of Vila Real de Santo António last night had to be postponed until after the weekend due to the number of locals who turned up to protest against the city’s new parking meter scheme.
The meeting, which was scheduled to start at 21:30 was delayed for 15 minutes to see if the angry crowd would calm down, which it did not.
The prospect of extending the parking meter zone to a total of 1,800 spaces in the city centre has enraged many locals and traders and yesterday’s 200 or so protesters shouted phrases like "we do not pay!" and the Algarve’s current favourite, "the people united, will never be defeated!"
The protesters included city residents and shopkeepers, and some to the many commuters who come to VRSA and work in the centre of the city.
"I live in the area just outside the pay zone. It’s already difficult to park now, imagine going forward. I am not a second class citizen and I too want to park," said one resident who would not qualify for the 'three free parking passes' exemption and who feared cars filling up the zone just outside the paid and display city centre.
Many traders fear that the paid parking will deter customers from VRSA's city centre and hence from leisurely browsing in their shops.
"Before, people parked, walked around, had lunch, shopped... now, with parking meters we don’t know how it will go. Certainly people will not shop for so long," said one storekeeper.
Other traders said that locals had been duped and taken by surprise, "We thought the meters were not on so many streets. There was lack of information and the information distributed has not been correct. "
The assembly was postponed to Monday for a location to be decided, but one that will accommodate several hundred people according to council president, José Carlos Barros.
Many rely on their vehicles to travel into the city centre with the train service covering the only those living along the western corridor. The VRSA train station is 1.8 kilometres from the Praça Marquês de Pombal in the centre which may deter many with bags of shopping.
The council wants to ratify the 30 year parking meter deal with Estacionamentos à Superfície e Subterrâneos whereby the company pays €400,000 up front to the council and ‘never less’ than €15,000 a month.