Why the Portuguese don’t drive much

Of all the Oregon/Portugal differences that I’ve tried to explain to my friends and family stateside, one of the hardest for them to understand is the cost of car travel. In the US, gas prices make headlines when they go over four dollars per gallon. (European readers: that’s only 0.83 euro cents per liter; try not to laugh. And no, I am not kidding about the headlines.) And in Oregon, there are no toll highways. None. This in a state that covers three times the land area of Portugal.

When I lived on the Oregon coast, most of us had family and friends inland, and we spent a lot of time driving back and forth to visit them. We’d also think nothing of driving one or two hours just to go for a hike, or to shop in the big inland stores for things we couldn’t get at the coast. Even a trip to Portland’s airport, three hours and 144 miles away, was something we considered more for the time involved than the money. With gas at $4 per gallon, in a car averaging 25 mpg, that drive to Portland would cost $46 round trip (36.50 euros at today’s exchange rate).

The driving distance from Loulé to Lisboa’s airport is similar: 164 miles. Using the same theoretical car, this trip would cost $157.33 (124.84 euros). That includes $111.33 for the gas (or 88.34 euros at 1.779 euros per liter, the price we paid yesterday) and another $46 (36.50 euros) for the tolls.

Similar drive, 340% more expensive. This is why the Portuguese don’t drive much.

The really amazing part? It’s actually cheaper for us to fly from Faro to London than it was for us to drive from Loulé to Porto. If we plan ahead and buy Easyjet tickets on cheap dates, we can go to London for under 90 euros each. The gas and tolls from our recent trip to Porto cost more than 250 euros.

I’m thinking we might head back to London this winter.

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About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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13 Responses to Why the Portuguese don’t drive much

  1. Jason Cleaver says:

    Petrol here in the UK is currently £1.40 a litre. I forget what the exchange rate from £ to Euro is. We don’t have toll roads though which is nice…

  2. Lilaine says:

    I just filled the tank yesterday: €1.599 le litre (around $2). It’s the cheapest I could find around here (not going to drive more than 5 km just to save €.05/litre) for the type of gas my car uses (we call it ‘super(essence) sans plomb 95’).
    As for the toll roads… we have plenty of them. *
    Fortunately, we also have a lot (really a lot) of charming country roads that are in quite good shape, and totally free (well, not exactly free: the maintenance is financed by taxes that are are paid by the whole tax-paying population).
    Btw, £1=$1.6=€1.27 according to conversion rates today.

    * For example: if I wanted to take a little trip and see the ‘Viaduc of Millau’, which is 430 km (267 miles) away, I’d drive 390 (243 miles) of them on toll roads(highways) and pay €25.7. Then, if I wanted to drive across the Viaduc, I’d have to pay €6.7 (€8,6 in July & August, gotta make tourists pay for the fun, right? :p ). Of course, that’s only the one way trip. But as I said, fortunately, we have the B (and C, sometimes) itineraries, for the return trip (or vice-versa).

    As for the gas cost, still for the one way trip, and with an estimation of what an average European car ‘drinks’ (from 6l/100km~=39mpg on the highway, up to 10l/100km~=24mpg in town), I’d say it’s around €45. My old car is, alas, above average and drinks a lot more(€55) … 😦
    And according to your kind of theoretical car and calculation mode, dear OEx, that would up the cost to around €90(gas+tolls) for the 267 miles trip (without crossing the Viaduc :p ).

    • Lilaine says:

      I meant an average, recent European car, of course.

      • oregon expat says:

        I’m still gasping over the toll for the Viaduc! Holy moly. Even Portugal’s 17-km-long Vasco de Gama bridge only costs €2.50 to cross, and the toll is only collected going north. But your gas is much cheaper, so that makes up for it…

        • Lilaine says:

          You mean that any car/truck coming from north don’t pay to cross the Tagus? 😮
          Well, that’s nice. Surprising, but very generous of whoever collects the toll.
          I guess it’s because the users are mainly people of the cities on each bank and there are not many other ways nearby if they want to cross the river.
          And the traffic is probably much more important than on the Viaduc of Millau. The strength in numbers, and all… 🙂

  3. xenatuba says:

    And here were were grousing at $4 per gallon. No toll roads in Oregon. I did just hear about some cheap ($325 rt) airfare to Hawaii out of Eugene, however….

  4. Brigitte says:

    Germany – 1,749 €/L =
    I drive with my car to work – 1.500 km/month = 210 €/month ($ 264)
    By bus and train I would pay 51 €/month ($ 63), but it would take me 3 hours/day to get to work and home – with my car only 1 hour,
    We don’t have tolls to date only for trucks, but we all pay tax on cars.

  5. Ana_ñ says:

    Many political, socioeconomic, cultural and historical factors could explain these differences. It is said that “Oil and the automobile have been potent symbols of the American way of life since the second decade of the twentieth century, and American popular culture has come to equate the private automobile and personal mobility with individual freedom. “
    Supposedly, in Europe we are trying to discourage the use of private cars.
    I was curious about the comparison in terms of population density. That is what I found: although very unevenly distributed in the territory, 15.57 versus 115 inhabitants per square kilometer in Oregon and Portugal, respectively. So, Portugal is about 738% more densely populated.

    • oregon expat says:

      In very rounded numbers, it’s accurate to say that Oregon is three times larger than Portugal with only one-third the population — and most of that population is packed into one great valley running north/south along the western third of the state. East of that, you’ll find a whole lot of land with a far lower population density than 115 people per square kilometer. It tends to blow European minds out of the water when they see it.

  6. M. says:

    I should say come to Poland to drive your car, we are cheap – only 1.40 euros per liter and almost no toll roads, but our main roads are so crowdy and usually in enough bad shape, that when you finally find a toll highway, you not only will cry from happiness, but willingly pay whatever they want :D. Last time I checked they wanted 7,30 euros for 140 km.

    • M. says:

      LOL should be crowded, as in full of crazy road pirates who made us the best road killers in EU 😦

    • oregon expat says:

      I don’t know…some of the Portuguese could give you Polish a run for your money in the driver insanity department. Down here, people think stop signs are merely suggestions, and “safe following distance” on the freeway means “bumpers not actually touching.” And any road not paved in the past three years will probably rattle your teeth out.

      Come to think of it, we seem to have a lot in common!

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