Economist sparks debate on tolls policy as roads jam

Lifting of all fees during holiday is 'stupid', economist says; many disagree

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 October, 2012, 4:54am

A prominent economist has sparked heated public debate by describing the lifting of all road toll fees during this holiday week as the stupidest policy ever.

"This is a new world record for stupid policies," Li Daokui , a former Chinese central bank adviser and currently a professor at Tsinghua University, wrote on his microblog on Sunday.

He said lifting expressway tolls was equivalent to mobilising everybody to jam the roads.

Severe traffic jams could be seen across the mainland on Sunday - the start of an eight-day holiday that this year includes both National Day and Mid-Autumn Festival. Many expressways turned into virtual car parks as more than 85 million travellers hit the road, up 13 per cent from the start of the holiday last year.

Even though drivers do not have to pay tolls, they still had to stop at toll gates to get pass cards, causing long tailbacks. Realising this, Beijing authorities yesterday stopped requiring drivers on roads in the capital to get the pass cards, Xinhua reported.

To avoid such chaotic scenes in future holiday periods, Li urged authorities to not only cancel the toll-free policy, but even increase tolls by 50 per cent.

But this thinking was met with contention by a large number of internet users, including many who had been stuck in traffic.

Gong Wentao , an IT engineer in Shenzhen, was among those who embraced the no-toll policy, even though he said it took him 15 hours to make what should have been about a six-hour drive to Hunan province. "It's a very good public policy and should be promoted on other public holidays or even weekends," Gong said.

By yesterday, congestion had begun to ease, with about half the traffic the day before on several expressways in Shanghai and Beijing, Xinhua reported.

Cai Lihui , a political analyst at Guangzhou's Sun Yat-sen University, criticised tolls. "Expressways and highways are funded by public money," he said. "All tolls should be eliminated, to give the public the social welfare they deserve."