Tolls will be reduced, says transport minister

The government is negotiating an overall reduction in toll charges with the contractors that are managing sections of Greece?s highway network, Deputy Transport Minister Yiannis Magriotis told Skai Radio on Monday.

?The total cost of tolls will be reduced,? he said. ?Each highway is different since the date on which they are constructed or completed is different.?

The government is currently in negotiations regarding the renewal of the seven five-year contracts that Greece had issued, allowing private firms to collect tolls in return for building new highways or improving and maintaining existing ones.

However, Magriotis said that the talks are complicated as the government has to reach agreement with 20 construction companies and various banks.

The issue of rising toll charges and the increasing number of tollbooths on national roads has become a burning issue in Greece over the last few months. Various citizens? groups, labor unions and consumer rights organizations have been pressing for the government to combat the rising cost of using the country?s highways. Some of the groups have protested at tollbooths, forcing officials to raise the bars and allow cars through for free.

Earlier this month, Apostolos Gletsos, the mayor of Stylida in central Greece, was arrested after using a bulldozer to knock down roadside barriers so that drivers could pass the Pelasgia tollbooth without paying. Gletsos, and the dozens of Stylida residents who supported him, claim that the toll charge of 2.60 euros for residents of the area is unfair because there are no country roads that they can use as an alternative to the highway to get to work or visit friends and relatives. The government had supplied some 1,000 Stylida residents with a discount card that allowed them to pass through the tolls for only 50 cents but this offer ended at the beginning of the year.

Magriotis refused to confirm rumors that the government was about to agree with contractors that residents should be issued with similar cards in seven areas where tollbooths have been built. He said that negotiations on the issue were continuing.

The minister?s comments came on the same day that charges went up at five toll stations on the Athens-Patra highway (Elefsina, Corinth Canal, Zevgolatio, Nea Peramos and Aghioi Theodoroi) managed by Olympia Odos. The cost for a car to pass went up from 2 euros to 2.20. Charges also increased at three tollbooths in the eastern Peloponnese (Nestani, Spathovouni and Asea), where drivers will have to pay between 1.90 euros and 2.40.