Reports on tollway debts to prompt reform

Updated: 2011-10-18 09:29

By Xu Wei (China Daily)

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Reports on tollway debts to prompt reform

Vehicles wait at the Langdong Tollgate on the Guilin-Beihai Highway in Nanning, capital of the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, earlier this month. [Photo/ Xinhua]

BEIJING - Traffic authorities in at least 16 provinces have released financial reports on their tollways, with most showing the road ways are heavily in debt.

As part of a year-long campaign targeting illegal toll collections which have led to many complaints by the public, 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions on the Chinese mainland were asked to investigate toll roads and make the findings public.

The future of toll roads in China has been hotly debated in recent years and Zhang Zhuting, a member of the Ministry of Transport's legal consulting committee, said the new information will help the central government formulate policies.

On Monday, reports released by the 16 provincial authorities indicated they owe a total of 1,268 billion yuan ($199 billion) for construction of the toll roads, but they earned only 170 billion yuan from toll collections last year.

Most toll roads in these provinces and municipalities suffered losses in 2010, with only four provinces and municipalities, including Beijing, recording profits.

The huge amount of road construction incurred large debts. Guangdong province in South China, for example, owes 227 billion yuan.

Most of the revenue generated from toll roads goes to cover the interest on the debts.

Toll roads in Guangdong, for instance, generated a total revenue of 35.5 billion yuan in 2010 and more than 51 percent of that went to creditors.

The huge debts have fueled concerns that the tolling period for those roads might have to be extended, even though regulations say toll roads can charge for a maximum of between 15 and 30 years.

"We need to be wary of local authorities using the debt risk to deter efforts to reform the current toll road charging system," said Wang Xixin, a law professor at Peking University.

"The usual case that those who borrow the money have the final say should not apply."

Wang said that setting a fixed period for repaying bank loans is a must for quicker repayment.

"It also reminds us of the need to strictly control the amount of investment and control the risk," he added.

Still, experts said that these reports were the first time the public has been given a glimpse of the debts and revenues of toll roads.

"We need to establish a system for providing information on toll roads to the public," Zhang Zhuting said.

China has 74,000 kilometers of highways and 95 percent of them are toll roads.

After all 31 province-level regions release their reports, the national reform campaign that started on June 20 will move on to the next stage, in which provincial governments will take action on illegal toll charges.

Cheng Shuying contributed to this story.