Expressway set to see more vehicles as tolls are lowered

By Xu Wei (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-06-30 13:12
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BEIJING - Drivers are likely to soon find the toll expressway linking the metropolis to Beijing Capital International Airport a lot cheaper.

The city's transport authority has announced that it is poised to reduce tolls for drivers heading toward the airport and cancel them completely for those heading back downtown.

Starting on Friday, the Tianzhu Toll Station that drivers must pass on their way to the capital airport's T1 and T2 terminals will lower its fee from 10 yuan ($1.54) per standard vehicle to 5 yuan, the Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport said on its website.

All cars bound for downtown Beijing via the expressway will be able to do so free of charge starting on Friday, the commission said.

One of the six tollbooths will be closed.

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However, drivers were reminded that the second airport expressway that opened to traffic in 2008 and connects to the T3 terminal building will still be charging 10 yuan in both directions.

The price cut came after a nationwide campaign jointly launched by five government departments to take down unauthorized tollbooths and close those that still collect tolls after the end of their authorized period.

The capital airport expressway, which opened in 1993, has been the subject of a public outcry because its operators reportedly extended its lifespan from 20 years to 30 years and because the tolls it has collected are more than triple the initial investment they were supposed to pay for, according to a 2008 National Audit Office report.

The response from the Beijing transport authority to the national campaign surprised many experts, including Duan Liren, a transport professor at Xi'an based Chang'an University who welcomed the decision.

"We cannot count on tackling the tollbooth issue in a short period of time but at least this is a good starting point," he told China Daily, adding that the problem takes time to solve because it has been in place for a long time.

The lowering of the toll fees, however, raised the concern of some who fear more traffic will spill onto the already congested road.

"If the toll fee on the airport expressway is reduced to 5 yuan, I am afraid it may no longer be an 'express' way," said 47-year-old taxi driver Wang Lianli, who said he already finds congestion on the road intolerable.

He said more drivers will now use the road, which has fewer traffic lights and is more direct than alternatives.

Wang's concern was confirmed by the administration in charge of the airport expressway.

"The expressway used to be mostly for airport-bound traffic. As the policy is carried out, it might become a road linking suburban districts with Beijing," a senior staff member at the administration surnamed Liu told China Daily.

Liu estimated a 10 percent to 20 percent increase in traffic volume after the new rates come in.

According to a Beijing Times report, the transport authority in the city has prepared for the extra traffic that might now use the road with more breakdown trucks and by lining up alternative routes.