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Road toll transparency

(China Daily)

13:53, May 02, 2012

Shanghai has started removing all the tollgates on the 18.5-kilometer expressway to the city of Jiaxing, making it toll free. This sets a good example for the management of expressways throughout the country.

The city authorities did not mention whether the loans needed for its construction had been repaid. The expressway, which opened to traffic in 1988, was the first of its kind in the mainland and collected tolls for 23 years to repay these loans.

Such highway construction loans are repaid by collecting a toll from road users. However, some expressways are still charging drivers even though the revenue from tolls has already paid back the loans.

Although 328 tollgates have been removed and 3,706 kilometers of highways made toll-free since July 2011, a nationwide investigation of road charges at the end of last year found that a kilometer of expressway can collect more than 2 million yuan ($317,850) in tolls in some provinces each year.

However, detailed accounts of the tolls collected are never made public.

As the volume of traffic on the expressway from Shanghai to Jiaxing has increased by 20 percent since it stopped charging tolls from January 1, there have been some suggestions that a toll should be charged in order to keep the traffic volume down.

But there should be a clear distinction between congestion fees and the tolls charged to pay back the loans taken out for the construction of expressways.

If it is really necessary to charge congestion fees to reduce the traffic volume and encourage more people to use public transport rather than drive, the public have the right to know how the money is being used.

The most serious problem is not charging for road use, but the lack of transparency about where the money goes.

Now the campaign is under way to overhaul road charges. Hopefully, the accounts of all toll roads will be made transparent soon and more expressways will become toll free.

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