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Saturday, 14 November 2009

On The Road Once More

Yesterday, more out of curiosity than desire, I took a coach trip for the first time in several years. After all, the adverts displayed a headline time from Albufeira to Lisbon of just two hours 40 minutes, faster than the train. Which doesn’t serve the centre of Albufeira. So I booked at the Eva office in the new bus station, and turned up for the 0920 coach from outside the bus shop in the old town.

The coach, displaying the kind of timekeeping that I remember all too well in the UK, left quarter of an hour late and lost another quarter of an hour en route, which meant that I had to be quick with my photos and the odd bit of “must do” sightseeing: this was eventually restricted to a ride on the 28 tram through Gra├ža, and a trip up the Santa Justa Tower before sunset.

At least on the way back, the coach was “only” twelve minutes off arriving back in Albufeira, but it’s not good enough. If a time of two hours 40 isn’t achievable, it shouldn’t be advertised. Nor were the coaches especially busy: there was room for all on board to “spread out”, with no more than twenty takers each trip. But the journey was informative in another way.

The A2 motorway, which connects Lisbon with the Algarve, has been driven through the hills of the southern Alentejo by carving out a lot of cuttings and building many more bridges. This makes it straighter and shorter than the rail route, and must have cost more even than Jeremy Clarkson’s taxes. But it is also a toll road, which may partly explain the lack of traffic. This is what motorways in the UK were like decades ago: at one point, the opposite carriageway had two of its three lanes closed for maintenance, with no delays caused.

Hence my contention that the advertised coach timing was not achievable: on the return journey, there was a couple of minutes’ delay through slow traffic. But, once out on the toll road, there is nothing to slow the coaches. There is, however, a desire to capture market share and make money.

Thus the headline timing.

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