Inflation threatens to trigger the price of toll roads by 8.4% since January

The Government has little more than ten days to avoid a historic increase in the price of toll roads. The concession contracts for these roads establish that the price of the roads for 2023 will be updated with the average CPI between November 2021 and November 2022. A calculation that results in an increase of 8.4% for next year. An unprecedented increase in recent years that could also be increased on highways where the concessionaires have made additional investments.

The Ministry of Transport is already studying possible alternatives to soften the rise. Everything would happen to reach some kind of agreement with the concessionaires so that the private companies that manage the highways raise prices less than what corresponds in exchange for some kind of incentive articulated by the Government.

What incentives are being considered? Government sources assure that ” everything is still open ” and there is no sealed plan. From the private sector, on the other hand, they slide three possible ways to compensate the concessionaires for the next year.

The first would be to extend the concession period, that is, to extend the period that the company will manage the tolls of a specific motorway. Another option is to undertake a more moderate increase and pay the difference in cash. And the last possibility would be to defer the increase in prices in the coming years. The aforementioned sources emphasize that the solution could be either one of these options or a combination of several, with the extension of the concessions being the least likely of all.

The Government has decided not to renew the toll road concessions that have been expiring since it came to power in 2018. This was the case with the AP-1 in November of that same year, with the AP-4 at the beginning of 2020, with the AP-2 since August 2021 and with several sections of the AP-7. For all these reasons, suddenly extending the concession period of some toll motorways would mean taking an unexpected step that would also mean making a 180 degree turn in the Executive’s strategy on interurban mobility.

From the Ministry of Transport, however, they confirm that they are in contact with the concessionaires and intend to limit this increase. The truth is that an 8.4% increase in the price of tolls would clash with the evolution of the price of other means of transport. The Government has decided to keep the Cercanias and Media Distancia trains free throughout 2023, while airport taxes will rise a meager 0.69% for next year.

In addition to this, the increase would mean the highest increase so far this century for routes with high payment capacity. In 2022, toll highways became more expensive, on average, by 1.97% . And on no highway has the rise reached 3%.

Toll motorway traffic has not yet reached 2019 levels in Spain. According to sources in the sector, factors such as teleworking and economic uncertainty have weighed on traffic on these roads, which have not yet fully recovered from the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Arrival of new rates

But the 2023 price hike is not the only uncertainty surrounding high-capacity roads. The Government continues to play distraction with the possibility of charging highways. The mobility law is extremely ambiguous with this option – which has aroused criticism from the CNMC, as this newspaper has published – but the implementation of new tolls is by no means ruled out.

The sector puts 2024 as the key date. To begin with, because next year will be an electoral year and the Executive wants to postpone the debate. And also, because it is in 2024 when the Government has committed to Brussels to implement tolls on the highways, as included in the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan submitted to the European Commission to obtain European funds. According to these same sources, the most “logical” option would be to first implement a ‘vignette’ while a pay-per-kilometre system is technologically developed.

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