Whether you like to do it on your own, you don’t have much time, or you just like to escape the rundown path taken by all the major tours, you will likely find yourself renting a car or taking your own wheels.
If you do, it does not matter if you stick to the good old map or love the precision of a GPS navigator, you need to beware of the different toll charging systems you will come across.
In the beginning there was one North-South highway from Porto to Lisbon that was tolled. Like a very old hair comb, new highways then sprout West-East connections to Spain at regular intervals.
That first highway was then expanded South from Lisbon to the Algarve (A2), and later from Porto to the North (A3). In the last decade, newer highways were built with EU funds, most as an alternative to these first highways or on top of the existing West-East freeways.
Why the dual tolling system?
Because EU funds were used, there was a period when they had to be toll free. As that period ended, the recession came, and the fantastic idea of charging tolls sprout.
As the road design did not allow for toll stations, the Government and a company called “Via Verde” (translates to “Green Way”) came up with a very modern tolling system that is installed along the highway.
Why do I need to know this?
As long as you stick to the older highways you are fine. But if you use, or need to use, one of the newer highways, no one will be there to collect your payment and that can mean trouble!
I am renting a car, so I am ok!
No you are not! Depending where and how carefully you rent your car, a “Transponder fee” will be shown or hidden from you.
It is basically a renting fee with a payment to your credit card at the end of you trip, that you need to opt in or out.
What if I bring my own car?
Foreign plates will have the same issue, the question is how your tolls and fines will be collected from you. Some EU countries already have agreements in place to facilitate these situations, others do not.
Be on the safe side and look out for signs and information outposts on the first service stations as you pass the border. There you can enrol one of the services and get your temporary “Transponder”.
You can also buy a prepaid toll card online or at some shops and associate it with your license plate.
What is this “Transponder” anyway?
Since it came to market, “Via Verde”, sells the possibility of on-the-go toll payment. On the older highways you need to slowdown to 60 km/h but on the newer highways you just need to drive straight ahead at any speed.
This was made possible due to a small white plastic device that you stick on the windshield. It communicates with an electronic system, mounted onto metal gantries (see picture bellow), that reads your license plate and the device, charging the toll directly to your card.
Can I live without it?
If you only travel the backroads: yes!
If you travel only within the city: yes!
If only want to travel along the A1 from Porto or the A2 to the Algarve from Lisbon: yes!
What’s the peril: if you take one the the ring roads of Porto and Lisbon or connections between these two highways, you might see the sign for electronic tolls and be forced to take the next exit or risk a fine.
Can I survive without it?
If you do opt out and choose to rebel, you have two options.
You can pay the toll charges and the fine once you receive it, either at the rent-a-car counter or through the way they find to collect them from you.
Or you can try to pay it yourself at a postoffice or any store that has the “Payshop” service. The question is if you will be able to.
Why?, you ask. The toll charges are only fully available 48 hours after you used the highway. Will you leave 2 days at the end of your holiday period for that purpose?
If you do, or if a local helps you out and pays it for you after you are gone, you’ll still need to pay for any other fees that are pending on that license plate and the service fee of 0,26€+VAT for each toll, up to a maximum of 2,08€+VAT per payment.
Is it worth to get a “Transponder”?
If the ease of mind is not enough argument for you, here are some perks that might convince you:
- Use the green lanes without stopping your car at the toll stations on regular highways;
- Automatic parking admission and payment in a lot of underground and overground parking lots;
- Easy, fast and wireless payment on some petrol stations.
If you want to take the fast route, be sure to include this in your rental for peace of mind.
You can confirm all the information above, check which highways to avoid and find prices for the various options in the following links:
- Tollcard (portal linked above where you can buy a toll card);
- Ascendi (road management company);
- CTT (Post Office – post payment only);
- Via Verde (Company which invented the Transponders).
Drop us a comment in case you have any doubts or want to relay your experience!