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Road rage

(Global Times)

09:15, August 13, 2012

China's passenger car drivers are more excited than usual about the upcoming National Day holidays, mainly because all highway toll fees will be waived.

The State Council approved a plan on August 3 to exempt passenger cars with no more than seven seats from toll fees during four national holidays: Spring Festival, Tomb-sweeping Day, Labor Day and National Day.

It's a step toward addressing the issue of excessive highway toll fees, which have become the focus of growing public discontent in recent years.

However, some experts queried whether the new policy will have much effect, given that the fees will still be charged during the rest of the year, which is a big problem for the freight transport industry. The highway sector also remains burdened by a high debt-to-assets ratio.

Big losses

"I could save 220 yuan ($34.53) in toll fees driving from Beijing to my hometown in Jinan in Shandong Province for a total length of around 560 kilometers," said Yi Haicun, a 31-year-old white-collar worker who plans to drive home during the National Holiday rather than traveling by train.

Some drivers are worried about larger traffic jams if more people drive. But Liang Qidong, a researcher at Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that "waiving tolls could ease traffic jams during the holidays, because previously vehicles always lined up at the toll gates, creating gridlock."

The highway companies, meanwhile, will unavoidably suffer losses.

"The total toll fee income of all the highways may be reduced by 2 to 3.5 percent," predicted Huang Jinxiang, an analyst at Sinolink Securities Co.

According to data from Sinolink, the average daily toll income during the four holidays is 5 to 10 percent higher than at normal times. This means that the new holiday exemptions will cut toll fees by 6 to 9 billion yuan each year, according to Huang.

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