Driving in China can be an expensive, and sometimes dangerous, task. Now, the National Audit Office reports that illegal highway tolls have taken at least 23.1 billion yuan (about 3.1 billion U.S. dollars) on toll roads in 18 provinces.
Toll roads cost account for about 54 percent of China’s highway system, Xinhua reports.
With already high legal tolls in can cost 1,600 yuan to drive cross country from Beijing to Fuzhou, a plane ticket would cost much less.
Financial magazine Caijing analyzes where the costs come from.
Seven provinces increased tolls, adding 8.2 billion yuan in charges. And local governments approved extensions of toll contract periods for 35 roads, pushing revenues to 10 times construction costs.
For example, NAO deemed Beijing’s airport tollway legal but improper. Construction costs were footed by local governments partially with bank loans. But according to a government Web site, the tollway’s operators have charged drivers 3.2 billion yuan between opening day 1993 and the end of 2005, and could receive another 9 billion yuan before the contract expires. The road’s building cost of 1.17 billion yuan was redeemed years ago.
These high tolls often leave people trying to find creative ways around them, such as disguising their car as an ambulance, the New York Times found.
Often cars can get stuck on highways for hours, leaving people trying to turn back. Also, drivers are known to sometimes make some interesting maneuvers.