A toll station in Nanchang. Toll gates will be letting the flood of cars loose this holiday season, which could have the adverse effect of creating more traffic. (Photo/Xinhua)
China's new policy that exempts passenger cars from road tolls during holidays is expected to spur unprecedented road traffic during the country's upcoming Golden Week holiday.
The public, including the country's 236 million licensed drivers, will be exempt from about 10 billion yuan (US$1.58 billion) in highway tolls during China's longest-ever eight-day Golden Week holiday, running from Sept. 30 to Oct. 7 this year. The policy will greatly benefit people planning to drive themselves to their holiday destinations, but it will also generate massive traffic pressure, said Chen Xiongzhang, a communications researcher with Guangxi Normal University.
In early August, the State Council, China's Cabinet, approved a plan to lift road tolls for passenger cars taking highways during major Chinese holidays.
Passenger cars with seven seats or less and motorcycles will get a free pass on toll roads, bridges and tunnels during the Spring Festival, Tomb Sweeping Day, Labor Day and National Day, said the notice issued by the State Council on Aug. 2.
People have long complained that toll gates cause highway traffic jams during national holidays.
Moreover, tolls take up 30 to 40% of expenses incurred by those driving themselves to destinations throughout China.
The holiday free-pass policy has met with a warm response among the majority of private car owners. An online survey conducted by Sina and Tencent, two major Chinese web portals, revealed that nearly 80% of respondents have planned to drive themselves to their destinations during the upcoming holidays. Some netizens have posted a "money-saving travel map," showing exactly how much toll money will be saved where the policy is in effect.
The policy doesn't just benefit the private owners of the country's 43.22 million private automobiles; it has also encouraged more people to rent cars for their holiday journeys, according to some major car rental companies.
In the early 1980s, the Chinese government issued the "building highways with loans" policy to finance highway construction. Since then, tolls have become the major source of revenue for repaying these loans.
To date, over 75% of China's freight transport and over 90% of passenger transport is carried out on the country's highways.
Though a major boon to the public, the free-pass policy will put unprecedented pressure on the country's highways during the annual travel peak seen every Golden Week, said Chen. Moreover, the upcoming eight-day Golden Week holiday will combine the Golden Week and the Mid-Autumn Festival, traditionally a time for family reunions in China.
Highway traffic pressure during this year's holidays is expected to increase several times over, said Lei Zhixiong, an expert with the Traffic Police Headquarters of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
In previous years, the holiday travel rush would peak in the first two and last two days of the Golden Week, but the new policy will see the rush extend throughout the entire holiday, he said. Nearly all trunk roads to provincial and regional capitals and popular tourist destinations will be congested, Chen predicted.
China has not set up a complete transportation information collection system encompassing the highway, railway, aviation and shipping sectors.
The lack of this system makes it difficult for government authorities to evaluate and guide traffic pressures. The upcoming holiday will offer the country a chance to form an advanced traffic management system, he said.