To toll or not to toll
Stepping out of the airport and into Beijing after a four-week gap last Sunday, I found the Beijing air had chilled considerably since the time I left it. Around 22 degrees centigrade was the temperature; it was announced in the aircraft. Expected at this time of the year, I thought – September and October were supposed to be the best months in Beijing in terms of weather; cool temperatures, clear skies.
I had also landed just at the beginning of the week-long holiday, marking the mid-Autumn Festival – a harvest festival — and the Chinese National Day.
As it turned out I was lucky to have reached home in some 25 minutes.
Elsewhere, 85 million Chinese were out travelling in car-clogged roads from where they live and work to their homes in far-flung provinces.
This mass migration happens twice every year in China, the first in the beginning of the Chinese Lunar Year usually in January or February every year.
Nothing comparable takes place in India like this: millions and millions take the bus, train, flight or car to travel and be with family and friends for a few days.
Curiously, the government removed road tolls this year as sort of largesse to the people. The Communist Party probably wanted it to bring some cheer. Instead it added to the chaos on the roads, enticing an additional 13.5 percent people to come out and take the benefit of toll-free travel.
Road toll in China, according to state media, is among the highest in the world: on average the toll is 1 Yuan or Rs 8.30 for every two kilometers.
Massive, several kilometer-long traffic jams were reported at across sections of 24 expressways across 16 provinces. Some were triggered by accidents, a government spokesperson told China Daily.
The government decision to lift the toll barrier was criticised in local Twitter-like blogs.
“Li Daokui, a renowned professor of economics at Tsinghua University, criticised the toll-free policy in a micro blog post, calling it the most foolish in the world. He said the move had caused massive traffic jams, and that raising the tolls by 50 percent would have benefited people more.
The extra revenue raised could help to pay for education for poor children in rural areas, suggested Li in his post on Sunday. The post was forwarded more than 8,300 times, attracting huge attention and sparking debate among China’s Internet users,” China Daily reported.
But many could also save hundreds of Yuan because of the lifting of the toll.
According to the Ministry of Transport, about 740 million trips will be made during the holiday, with 660 million of those being made by road and water. That’s an average of 82.5 million trips per day, an increase of 8.8 percent year-on-year.
Beijing, meanwhile, has emptied out. Streets are empty by the city’s standards, shops and restaurants are working on skeletal staff – if the establishments are open in the first place – and markets and malls are nicely lit up. Evenings have gone quiet and even the subway system seems to be relaxing, breathing easy for a week before the morning and evening rush hours catch up again. And while it can’t be said of the main expressways, less cars plying on the wide roads of Beijing means a temporary retrieve for the city’s air quality.