Of the 3,200 kilometers of highway in Portugal, around one-fourth of the distance is managed under Ascendi. Having risen from the management of tollbooth highways outside of Porto, today Ascendi employs some of the world’s most advanced electronic tollbooth and maintenance monitoring systems. CEO Luis Santos explains.
How would you describe Portugal’s infrastructure networks today?
Almost all important infrastructure is already accomplished. Not only does Portugal possess a modern highway network, but also excellent telecom infrastructure that is well adapted to the needs of the economy. Nowadays, railway issues are in the media agenda. As a matter of fact, there has been some delay in the acquisition of new trains, and during the financial crisis a project for the construction of a high-speed train from Lisbon to Madrid was suspended. There is a consensus regarding the remaining infrastructure still needed, namely the ongoing project of a new railway from Sines port to Spain and a solution for the congested Lisbon Airport.
Can you explain Ascendi’s rise in Portugal’s transport sector?
It began with a first concession in the north of Portugal. Afterwards, Ascendi grew organically, winning tenders for three highways under the shadow toll systems in the north, a traffic risk concession in the Lisbon area and two sub-concessions in the interior under a PPP scheme paid for by availability. Portugal later installed tollbooths in formely uncharged highways and then the contracts were changed as traffic would be affected. At the time, Ascendi’s shareholders and the Government agreed to change all contracts into PPPs, whereby the government pays per availability. At the same time, tolls began being collected by Ascendi on behalf of the Government as that revenue is fully owned by the State to compensate the availability cost paid to the concessionaires.
What kind of high-tech systems are in place?
In Portugal, we have a system called Via Verde that works very well. Given that it is a small country, we have an impressive 80% usage rate for Via Verde lanes on average in the Portuguese network, with only 20% using the traditional toll payment system. Almost all our systems use a multi lane free flow electronic system, without any barriers or toll plazas. Using this solution since 2010, we are one of the most experienced companies in Europe managing electronic toll services.
How does Ascendi monitor its highways?
We are an operator that applies the usual international standards regarding Operation and Maintenance of motorways. Those standards are quite similar across Europe. Additionally, we developed a powerful platform that enables us to use digital monitoring for infrastructure, adding information in the system, which, through an algorithm, has the capacity to predict future maintenance needs and to help us to adapt plans in accordance with that information. With time, this will allow us to sell our solutions to other infrastructure networks. This platform not only supports the usual O&M activities in a digital and user-friendly way, but also uses big data, generated by all O&M interventions in each component of the infrastructure, to predict future needs.
What makes Ascendi an ideal partner in infrastructure?
We manage a significant road network under only one brand and we are highly advanced and experienced in what concerns to electronic tolls. The next step will be to be able to use our expertise and experience in other markets outside Portugal. Recently, we were involved in a consortium with two French Contractors, bidding for a new concession in France, the south-west Route Centre-Europe Atlantique (RCEA). In that bid, the consortium offered two different toll solutions, as requested by the authorities: one using the traditional toll plazas scheme and the other using the Multi Lane free flow’s Ascendi solutions. Doing so, we are developing our international structure in order to become more and more a European company.