A number of toll firms have gone bankrupt due to having to pay extra costs for the compulsory purchase of land to build the motorways, and far fewer cars using them since the start of the financial crisis to save money.
Toll routes are mostly found in and around Madrid and Barcelona, and also between Silla (Valencia province) and San Juan (Alicante province) on the AP-7.
Minister for public works and infrastructure Íñigo de la Serna says traffic on toll roads is now increasing again – up to 4.7% more vehicles used them in the first nine months of 2017, or an average of 19,801 a day on Spain’s 2,550 kilometres of toll routes.
Ironically, the ‘bankrupt’ toll motorways have seen the highest increase in traffic – an average of 7,610 cars a day between January and September inclusive, or 9.4% more.
In fact, the AP-41 Madrid-Toledo motorway saw traffic rise by 15.5%, whilst the Madrid ‘radial’ R-5 motorway leading to Navalcarnero saw a whopping 34.6% hike in cars.
In these areas, the toll roads are the fastest and most convenient routes, but the AP-7 through the Comunidad Valenciana sees very little use compared with 10 years ago.
Those who do use it calculate that the toll fees come to around 150% of their petrol bill, meaning the majority of drivers opt for the more arduous, but vastly cheaper, back roads to save money.
Spain’s government had pledged to end the tolls on the AP-7 ‘Mediterranean Motorway’ when the firm, AUMAR’s contract comes up for renewal at the end of 2019, meaning the highway will be free of charge from New Year’s Day in 2020.
Town councils in the provinces of Alicante and Valencia, especially those affected by constant heavy traffic – including long-distance lorries – as a result of the motorway fees are keeping the pressure on the central government to ensure it remains true to its word.
It has been hinted that ‘replacement’ charges may be made to use the AP-7, but up to 64 local councils say they will fight this if it happens.
Toll fees in general are linked to inflation, meaning they dropped by 0.6% and 0.4% in 2016 and 2017 respectively and were frozen in 2015, but will go up by 1.91% from January 1, 2018.
Since inflation was set as the yardstick for toll fee increases and decreases in 2002, they have risen by anything from 1.44% in 2011 to a record high of 4.46% in 2009.