Lower toll charges on the agenda

Months of protests by motorists and residents of Attica, central Greece and the Peloponnese against the increasing number of tollbooths and the rising toll charges on Greece’s highway network appear to have had an effect on the government’s thinking as it is attempting to negotiate a reduction in charges with the consortia that are hoping to renew the five contracts to manage the country’s national roads. Sources told Kathimerini that the government has begun talks with the contractors with the aim of their agreeing to a 20-25 percent reduction in tolls. It will also seek other concessions from the consortia to reflect the limits that have been placed on public expenditure since the contracts were first agreed upon five years ago. Since then, a number of projects, such as the construction of new stretches of highway and the improvement of existing ones, have fallen behind schedule as a result of the economic downturn. However, the government has also come under severe pressure from motorists and residents’ groups due to the increasing number of tollbooths that have been positioned along highways over the past couple of years and the fact that toll charges have also risen steadily during that time. Just this month, charges at Afidnes, north of Athens, rose to 2.05 euros, at Thebes to 2.50, at Tragana to 2.40 and at Aghia Triada to 1.55. The unpopularity of the increases was highlighted on January 10 when Stylida Mayor Apostolos Glezos, a well-known actor, drove a bulldozer through crash barriers at the Pelasgia tollbooth in central Greece so locals could avoid paying the fee, which had just risen to 2.60 euros. In most cases, residents living close to new toll stations or ones where the charges have risen complain that the absence of decent country roads means that they are forced to use highways to get to work or go about their daily business. The government, therefore, would score a major public relations coup if it could secure a reduction in toll charges, even if this means that it could have to fund such a reduction out of state coffers.