China to implement major initiative to accelerate electronic toll collection

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Traffic jam during the Spring Festival holiday in February 2019 in the southwestern Chinese province of Guangxi. (Image credit: Bigstock/Freer Law)

Beijing is taking drastic measures to accelerate adoption of electronic toll collection (ETC) devices in the country’s motorway networks by offering drivers who use the system discounts of at least 5%, said the Ministry of Transport in an announcement released Monday.

The policy will come into effect across the country on July 1. Vehicles belonging to government agencies and state enterprises, including police cars and ambulances, will have the electronic payment devices installed by the end of July. China will leverage all resources to ensure that 90% of vehicles are using the ETC system by year-end, Wu Chungeng, spokesperson of the ministry said Tuesday in a media briefing held in Beijing.

Local governments will also be required to report monthly to Beijing about progress meeting goals, including the number of devices installed and usage rates. According to an action plan released earlier this month by the State Council, China plans to remove all expressway toll booths at provincial borders except those at the beginning and end of each highway by the end of this year.

The move is part of a broader plan to establish a connected, manageable national highway network system to reduce public transport and logistics costs, the ministry said. China has become notorious for massive traffic jams that tie up millions of people on highways for hours across the country, especially during holidays.

Congestion is sometimes so severe that the media broadcasts stories of what individuals do during the jams, such as one woman in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan who practiced tai chi for an hour on a highway during the week-long National Day holiday in October, reported Xinhua News Agency.

The central government will also speed up implementing lower toll charges during off-peak hours. Additional fees implemented by local municipalities which result in higher tolls and “violate fairness and efficiency” will be eliminated. This part of the new policy is scheduled to launch in the beginning of 2020, with an aim to facilitate travel at different times to relieve traffic burdens around the country.