MADRID – After the Spanish government confirmed plans to introduce motorway tolls on Spanish roads. The tolls will not just be on motorways, but also on some regional roads. A debate has erupted and speculation is rife.
At 17,338 kilometres, Spain has the longest motorway network in Europe and the third longest in the world. Spain also offers, in contrast to surrounding countries, the most free sections (73.5% of the free road network in Europe).
This free road use and maintenance has led to a significant deficit in the national budget. The debt has risen to almost €8billion. Moreover, the government has calculated that this amount will increase by almost 500 million per year if no toll is levied. Reason enough to go to Brussels with the plan to collect tolls on motorways from 2024.
User and polluter pays
The Spanish traffic authority DGT defends the argument that ‘he who uses and pollutes pays’. Director Pere Navarro also points out that ‘in all European countries, people pay to maintain and repair motorways. If you go by train, you don’t go for free either. Both here and in every other country you pay for infrastructure’.
This is at odds with the free road use that characterises Spain. Nevertheless, the government and the various sectors involved consider it opportune to charge an ‘accessible’ rate for all citizens, so that it is not too heavy an attack on the wallet. The trade union involved, Seopan, estimates that the average price will be around eight cents: three cents for light vehicles and fourteen cents for heavy vehicles, and confirms the estimates of Acex (the Association of Companies for the Preservation and Operation of Infrastructure), which puts the price at between three and five cents for ordinary passenger cars.
A calculation of motorway tolls
Assuming an average of four cents per kilometre, the cost of the six main motorways – the roads connecting Madrid to the rest of the peninsula – will be between €14 and €25. The shortest stretch, the 352-kilometre stretch from Madrid to Valencia, will cost €14. The price for the longest stretch, the 610 kilometres between Madrid and Barcelona, will be almost €25. An overview:
A-1 Autovía del Norte, Madrid-Irún, 421 kilometres = €18.16
A-2 Autovía del Nordeste, Madrid-Barcelona, 610 kilometres = €24.40
A-3 Autovía del Este, Madrid-Valencia, 352 kilometres = €14.08
A-4 Autovía del Sur, Madrid-Sevilla, 558 kilometres = €22.32
A-5 Autovía del Suroeste, Madrid-Badajoz, 407 kilometres = €16.28
A-6 Autovía del Noroeste, Madrid-La Coruña, 593 kilometres = €23.72
Current motorway tolls
By the end of 2021 only 11.5% of motorways in Spain will be toll roads. This should be a unique situation within Europe, where in 23 countries 100% of the road use has to be paid for. The most expensive section in Spain, the AP-68 between Zaragoza and Bilbao, costs €33.10 for 302 kilometres. For light vehicles, this means about 10 cents per kilometre.
Moreover, the charge announced by the government clashes with the discontinuation of previous motorway tolls. That would not have lasted long. On two of the busiest stretches, the AP-1 (Vitoria – Irún) and AP-4 (Seville – Cadiz), road users have not paid tolls since 2018 and 2020 respectively.