Free-pass policy faces rush test
Updated: 2013-02-07 07:52
China's policy that exempts cars from road tolls during holidays will face an unprecedented test in the Spring Festival travel rush, the world's largest annual migration.
The country's 260 million drivers will be exempt from highway tolls as they return home to be reunited with their families.
The free-pass policy will see a 70 percent increase in traffic flow during the Spring Festival holiday from Feb 9 to Feb 15, highway authorities said.
In early August, the government approved a plan to lift tolls on highways for passenger cars during major Chinese holidays.
Passenger cars with seven seats or fewer and motorcycles will not be charged on toll roads, bridges and tunnels during Spring Festival, Tomb Sweeping Day, Labor Day and National Day.
In the early 1980s, the government issued the "building highways with loans" policy to finance highway construction. Tolls have become the major source of revenue for repaying loans.
The free-pass policy has been welcomed by many private-car owners as it cuts their travel cost.
More than 189 million car owners enjoyed the policy during the National Day holiday from Sept 30 to Oct 7.
However, many were annoyed after being stuck in traffic jams on highways.
Drivers posted photos online, with one showing a motorist using a telescope to see how long the backup was, and another showing passengers playing tennis while traffic was at a standstill.
Drawing lessons from the last holiday, some local government traffic authorities have issued detailed and improved measures to ease congestion on some major travel peak days.
In the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, highway management authorities will issue tickets for private cars 12 hours before the end of the free-pass policy.
This is expected to ease the traffic flow that could occur hours before the policy ends, and lead to less tension among drivers, said the regional department of transport.
However, there could be problems ahead.
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 governments to evaluate and resolve traffic congestion.
Also, recent weather such as haze, snow and freezing rain may cause problems.
"A more flexible and detailed policy will receive more applause by Chinese people on their most cherished annual holiday," said Chen Yiyang, who is planning to travel from Beijing to Anhui province.
"The extended free-toll policy is welcomed. Of course, a permanent free highway would be even better."