World, Europe

Spain defends plan to introduce tolls on state highways

Despite onslaught of criticism, economy minister says country needs to raise funds

Alyssa McMurtry   | 06.05.2021
Spain defends plan to introduce tolls on state highways FILE PHOTO

OVIEDO, Spain

Spanish Economy Minister Nadia Calvino on Thursday defended the country's plan to eventually make drivers pay tolls on state and regional highways.

"It's the European model and what's most fair," she said in the Spanish congress, highlighting the need to "find ways to finance" the country's planned infrastructure investments.

"It seems reasonable that the 100,000 vehicles entering Spain every day, half of them foreign, will pay something too," she said.

The plan to put tolls on 12,000 kilometers (7,456 miles) of Spain's generally toll-free national highways has been submitted to Brussels as part of the country's COVID-19 recovery package.

According to the document, the pay-to-drive system could later be scaled up to single-lane roads and busy highways managed by regional governments.

At the moment, drivers in Spain spend far less than in other EU countries on tolls. Some estimates suggest they are around 76% cheaper than in neighboring countries like France or Italy.

But, Spaniards and businesses affected by transportation costs are in no hurry to see that change.

"In Spain, we already have a tax that affects drivers and pays for the roads, and that's the fuel tax," Jose Gil, the head of Spain's Federation of Transport Associations, told local daily Nuis. "This would increase the price consumers will have to pay for transport."

The already-struggling tourism sector fears the potential harm the move could cause. All the political groups in the historic city of Salamanca have agreed to pressure the central government to drop the plan, saying it could take a major toll on the number of arrivals.

Though details are far from finalized, estimates suggest drivers may be paying €0.04 ($0.048) per kilometer.

That would drive up the price of the two-hour trip from Madrid to Salamanca by around €8.50. A one-way journey from the city of A Coruna in the north to Cadiz in the south could cost €41.

Nearly 150,000 people have signed an online petition opposing the move.

Spain's government plans to hold off on enacting the pay-to-drive system until 2024 after the economy has had time to recover from the pandemic.

Driving on German, Belgian or Dutch highways remains generally free of charge.

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