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Will Spain roll out motorway tolls as planned?

The Spanish government has begun to study how it will introduce tolls on all of the country’s motorways, but given the opposition these plans have faced in the current climate of spiralling costs, they may have to reconsider.

spain motorway tolls 2024
Spain’s Transport Ministry has started to study how it will implement tolls on high-capacity motorways by 2024. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)

In early 2021, the Spanish government appeared to concede to pressure from the EU to introduce more tolls on its motorways.

One of the EU’s demands for allocating €140 billion to Spain as part of its Covid recovery plan was that in return Sánchez’s government started charging more on the country’s largely toll-free highways.

The plans appeared to have faded into the background, but now they’re back on the table as Spain’s Transport Ministry has started to study how it will implement tolls on high-capacity motorways by 2024.    

Spain’s General Directorate of Highways, which depends on the Transport Ministry, has commissioned consultancy company Ineco to prepare nine reports to assess a new highway financing system.

READ ALSO: Tolls, stickers or free? Spain mulls future of its motorways

It was a report in Spanish news website El Confidencial which exposed the plans, which hadn’t actually been publicised by the Spanish government, and as could be expected in the current climate of spiralling inflation and sky-high fuel, electricity and other daily costs, the prospect of also having to pay for tolls has been hit by a huge backlash.

So much so that the country’s coalition left-wing government has rushed to minimise the claims, in the same vein as when it refused to label the motorway charges as tolls in 2021.

“No plans have been resumed,” said Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda Minister Raquel Sánchez on national broadcaster RTVE. 

“Given the complicated current context, it doesn’t seem like the most suitable time [to introduce tolls].

“The Spanish government will study all the different alternative,” Sánchez added, with the aim of seeking both “the consensus of the political parties and transport industry groups”. 

In any case, Spanish consumer watchdog Facua has criticised the government’s toll plans, arguing that it will mainly affect those with lower purchasing power, suggesting that the funds should be taken from the country’s State Budget, financed by Spaniards’ taxes. 

For their part, transport workers have already voiced their discontent at the prospect of the new motorway tolls.

“It would be a brutal increase in costs to add to the current fuel price rise we’re enduring” said Dulsé Diaz, Deputy Secretary General at the Spanish Confederation of Freight Transport (CETM).

Transport workers in Galicia have already announced they will go on strike if the tolls are implemented.

Although the details are yet to be confirmed, the new tolls will cost an average of between 3 and 5 euro cents per kilometre according to reports in the Spanish press. 

As things stand, Spain is one of the countries in Europe where drivers currently pay the least for the use of its high-capacity road network, spending 76 percent less on tolls than the average for EU countries.

This lack of funding for maintenance has caused a deficit of €8 billion for the Spanish government which it is now looking to address, especially due to pressure from Brussels.

According to Spanish construction employers’ association APCE, the introduction of tolls on the country’s toll-free network (14,100 kilometres) would generate €12.6 billion a year that could be fed back into public coffers.

There are also reports suggesting that one of the aims will be to reduce territorial imbalances, since there are some Spanish regions where tolls are more common than in others.

But with millions of Spaniards struggling to make ends meet under the highest inflation rate in 37 years, it seems unlikely the Socialist-led government will want to fast-track such an unpopular measure, especially before the November 2023 general elections.

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Menú del día map: Where has Spain’s staple meal become most expensive?

With inflation putting up the price of everything from olive oil to electricity bills, now a Spanish custom renowned for its value for money is also being affected: the menú del día.

Menú del día map: Where has Spain's staple meal become most expensive?

Spain’s much-loved menús del día (menus of the day) are sacred to many Spaniards and can be found in pretty much every city, town and village across the country.

They are typically three-course menus served at lunchtime for a fixed price and include a drink, which may be beer or wine, as well as bread.

READ ALSO – The secrets of El Menú del Día: The surprising story behind Spain’s fixed-price lunch menu

The menús del día date back to the 1960s during the Franco regime, when they were called menús túristicos and were introduced so that tourists would be able to pay a fixed price to enjoy Spanish cuisine.

In the 1970s, they changed their name to menús del día as they became even more popular with the local population. In most cases, you can select between several dishes for each course and depending on what you order, menús del día can be great value for money.

Between 3 and 4 million people regularly enjoy the menú del día offer in Spain.

Inflation on the menu

But like a lot of the world in 2022, Spain has been gripped by a cost-of-living crisis and it now seems that the much-loved menú del día is becoming the latest victim of inflation. 

According to a survey conducted by Hostelería de España, between November 2021 and April 2022, four in ten restaurants in Spain have put up the price of their daily menu offer by 5 percent, a third have raised it by 10 percent, and 7 percent of restaurants raised the prices by 15 percent.

In cash terms, a 5 percent increase is roughly 70 cents, a 10 percent rise is around €1.40, and restaurants that have raised the price by 15 percent have put up prices by around €2. 

READ MORE: Huge debate roars over vague hint that ‘menús del día’ should drop beer and wine

According to the survey, the average price of the menú del día across Spain is now around €12.80.

The hospitality sector in Spain, though enjoying the return of post-pandemic tourism, is struggling to cope with the surge in energy prices and raw materials.

Spain’s National Institute of Statistics, the INE, reported in mid-July that the country’s 10.2 inflation rate was the highest level the country had experienced since 1985

For many restaurants and bars, simply paying the gas and electricity bills or buying basic food stuffs have become an existential cost. As a result, many have decided – or been forced – to raise their prices, and the affordable menú del día is no exception. 

The menú del día cost a little over €4 on average 20 years ago, around 700 pesetas. Nowadays, fixed menus can range from €8 to €14.

Most expensive menús del día in Spain in 2022

But where are the most expensive cities in Spain for a menú del día?

It is worth noting that the following figures are very much focused on major cities, and are not reflective of prices in smaller towns and villages. Often, it will be possible to find much more affordable menú del día offers in small-town bars and restaurants, although even there the inflationary pressures have likely passed on price increases to the customer. 

According to the figures from Hostelería de España, Barcelona is the priciest place in Spain, with an average price of €14. Not far behind in second place is Madrid, where the average price is now €13.90.

Coming in third is Palma de Mallorca, where the price has risen to €13.60 on average, and Bilbao comes in at fourth, with an average menú del día price of €13.50.

Rather surprisingly compared to the cost of living in Murcia more generally, the average price in the southern region has risen to €13, and Zaragoza is shortly behind at €12.80, with Valencia at €12.60.

As is often the case in Spain, the further south you go the cheaper things get. In Andalusia, a menú del día now costs €12.50 on average in Málaga, and €12 in Seville.

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands reportedly has the cheapest menú del día at an average price of €11.50, although it’s worth noting that this data only encompasses Spain’s ten most populous cities (More on regional menú del día data further down). 

Here is a breakdown of the average menú de día price in 2022 in Spain’s biggest cities:

  1. Barcelona €14
  2. Madrid €13.90
  3. Palma de Mallorca €13.60
  4. Bilbao €13.50
  5. Murcia €13
  6. Zaragoza €12.80
  7. Valencia €12.60
  8. Malaga €12.50
  9. Sevilla €12
  10. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria €11.50

Hostelería de España has also collected data on what the average price of the menu del día is across Spain’s regions.

We’ve compiled their data into the following map, and below that you’ll find a breakdown of how much menú del día prices have increased across Spain’s regions from 2016 to 2022.

Price increase of the ménu del día across Spain's regions from 2016 to 2022

Galicia: +16.4 percent
La Rioja: +15.7 percent
Basque Country: +12.5 percent
Extremadura: +11.3 percent
Catalonia: +10.8 percent
Madrid: +10.4 percent
Asturias: +9.8 percent
Andalusia: +9.7 percent
Cantabria: +9.6 percent
Castilla y León: +9.1 percent
Aragón: +8.8 percent
Valencia region: +8.3 percent
Navarre: +6.5 percent
Balearic Islands: +4.6 percent
Castilla-La Mancha: +4.4 percent
Canary Islands: +2.7 percent
Murcia: +1.6 percent