Nation's highways a nightmare for drivers over 'Golden Week"
Holiday congestion around nation made Beijing's famously jammed roads look empty by contrast
The arrival of the eight-day-long National Day holiday last Sunday was greeted by The Beijing News with an editorial urging people to take it easy and not stress out on the roads if they wanted to have a happy holiday.
"We are living in a fickle age," it said. "Every day we work so hard for a so-called 'successful' life and no longer care about our families … we've been walking too fast, it's about time we stopped and waited for our soul."
However, the millions who swarmed onto roads heading to tourist attractions during the "golden week" holiday did not find the relaxation they hoped for. Indeed, the scenic spots they flocked to were more crowded than usual in many cities.
Some did try to relax in the ensuing traffic jams - stretching and smoking as if they were at home - but photos widely circulated by the mainland media also showed many having to face the embarrassment of using emergency lanes as toilets.
That gave readers at home some idea about the misery faced by drivers during the holiday, with record traffic congestion even making Beijing's famously jammed ring roads look deserted by comparison.
China Central Television commentator Liu Ge wrote an article for the Chinese-language edition of the Global Times before the jams and the holiday started, warning that traffic congestion was likely to be severe as highway tolls were being temporarily suspended.
"This is the first time that China's highways have been toll-free, and it will definitely bring traffic jams … many people will take advantage of the freebie," she wrote. "The cities prepared for the expected gridlock, but unfortunately they didn't announce any measures to counter the problem. I hope my worries are for nothing."
That hope went unrealised, with media and the official online portals of various cities reporting the resulting gridlock.
The Beijing Times reported on Monday that in Shenzhen, which is home to many migrant workers, one family was stuck on the roads for seven hours as it tried to get out of the city.
"If the situation continues, I might have to spend all eight days on the way," one desperate driver told the newspaper.
Shenzhen's Daily Sunshine said on Wednesday that the challenges facing highway administrators were clear but staggering, and published an open letter to Transport Minister Yang Chuantang .
It mockingly quoted comments from Yang on Tuesday in which he said that on the highways the "overall condition is smooth and traffic is in order", and asked him if he really understood what was going on.
"As we understand it, a pregnant woman lost her baby due to a traffic jam; a migrant worker didn't get to see his father one last time before he died due to a traffic jam; some people had to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival in their car due to a traffic jam … why you were saying 'smooth'? And what does 'in order' mean?" it asked.
On Tuesday, the China Youth Daily accused highway officials of gloating about the gridlock, because they could use it to conclude that toll-free travel was unworkable and it was "better for the public to pay".
"Toll-free is not a gift, we, the taxpayers, have the right to enjoy free highways," it said. The Daily Sunshine was still angry on Thursday and echoed the China Youth Daily, saying "toll-free should last forever".
The Beijing News, which predicted the chaos on the roads, sought to explain the key reason for the jams.
"The traffic jams show the eagerness of the public for a better welfare system, they are not used to it and that's why they have been rushing to take advantage of the experiment … the government should understand the lack of welfare products has brought unhappiness and anxiety to the public," the newspaper said.
"It should provide more free facilities to the public, such as more free highways."