Toll-free Holiday Traffic Ends in Gridlock

As China commenced a week-long National Day vacation known as Golden Week, authorities decided to do car travelers a favor and make the roads toll-free. With train tickets for the long holiday selling out fast, and an increasing number of Chinese families now owning cars, more and more people take to the roads for holiday travel. The result of this week’s largesse: gridlock traffic across the country. Photos posted on Sina Weibo and elsewhere showed passengers stuck in miles of parked traffic passing the time by exercising, playing tennis, and walking their dogs. In Tianjin, a tour bus reportedly carrying caught fire, killing at least six people including five Germans. The Telegraph reports on the extent of the gridlock:

Long tailbacks were reported across the country, with 24 major motorways in 16 provinces effectively transformed into enormous parking lots as 86 million people took to the roads, a 13 per cent increase on last year.

It was the first time in a decade that China’s motorways had been toll-free and many families were keen to take advantage of the largesse to get away during the eight-day national holiday.

Frustrated drivers were spotted walking their dogs along the hard shoulder, playing tennis, dropping to the tarmac to do press-ups, or simply snoozing in their cars. Thousands of mobile phone pictures were quickly posted by drivers onto the internet, and the jams were a trending topic on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter.

The Atlantic looks at how China’s system of weeklong holidays over National Day and the Lunar New Year – implemented largely so millions of migrant workers are able to return home at least once a year – contributes to the problem:

While quick fixes like virtual ticket booths and free tolls could be helpful in alleviating the burden of holiday travelers, the problem of overstressed transportation infrastructure will more than likely persist unless the government changes the actual holiday system in China.

According to one study by Mercer, workers in China receive about 10 days of paid vacation leave a year, ranking among the lowest in the world. Two of the longest holidays occur during National Day on October 1 and at the Chinese New Year in late winter or early spring. But what is deceiving is that only three of those days are paid for. The other four must be made up by working the weekends bookending the golden week. All in all, the Chinese do not have much leisure time.

Professor Cai Jiming of Tsinghua University argues that these golden holidays are environmentally damaging and that the one-off shots of income for the tourism industry generated by golden weeks do not help in the long term. He argues for eliminating the golden weeks altogether and has already successfully lobbied to shorten the golden week in May to a day.

October 1, 2012 12:22 PM
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