BEIJING - Highway toll fees will be made more affordable nationwide, as the Ministry of Transport will gradually introduce a stable and cheap charging system, a senior official said on Tuesday.
Vice-Minister of Transport Weng Mengyong made the remarks at a news conference about the recent high-profile case in Central China's Henan province, in which a farmer received a life sentence for toll evasion.
Shi Jianfeng, a farmer in Henan, was convicted of evading tolls totaling 3.68 million yuan ($550,000), according to the Pingdingshan Intermediate People's Court verdict on Dec 21, 2010.
The harsh sentence sparked a storm of online criticism, as many netizens have decried the exorbitant road fees and pointed out Shi's income was far less than the toll fees.
Weng said the new policies will be made public and transparent. The ministry will streamline and specify toll-road regulations at the local and central government levels, he said, without providing details.
In addition, the country's highway system will be divided into a toll-road system of expressways and backbone national highways, with a free-of-charge road system in place on other roads. Charges will remain low - just enough to pay for the roads' operation and maintenance, Weng said.
More than 90,000 kilometers of second-class highways financed by government loans in 17 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions had stopped charging toll fees by the end of last year. In addition, 1,723 tollgates were closed during the period, Ministry of Transport figures released on Tuesday showed.
"We plan to gradually get rid of all the tolls collected on second-class highways," Weng said.
Tolls have been waived since the end of last year for vehicles transporting basic necessities, such as agricultural products, he added.
In a separate development, Weng also said the ministry supported Beijing's new traffic measures, including the limiting of new license plate registrations.
In the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) period, the ministry will launch pilot projects in several locations across the country to make them model cities of public transportation, he added. The projects will increase urban public transport use, Weng said.
(China Daily 01/19/2011 page5)