After dispatching armed police to highway toll booths, Northwest China's Qinghai province has seen a sharp reduction in the number of vehicles speeding through toll crossings to avoid paying, as part of a concerted campaign in recent months. Despite this, provincial traffic authorities still described the situation as "critical" on Thursday.
Armed policemen, traffic police and transportation administrators have been sent to help supervise the vehicles in a campaign launched on October 1, which will last until December 20. They will supervise vehicles in 11 key toll gates that have been identified as problem spots, in a campaign that was launched after a toll booth worker was crushed to death by a truck on September 19.
The man who was crushed by the 80-ton truck, Sun Mingjun, a staff member from the Dashuiqiao toll station on the Beijing-Lhasa Expressway, had tried to stop it by standing in front of it, the China News Service reported. Nine drivers involved in the case have been arrested.
A total of 889 vehicles forcefully crossed toll stations on highways in October, of which 520 fled the scene and 369 were punished, Zhao Changsheng, director of the law office of the provincial Highway Construction and Administration Bureau, told the Global Times on Thursday.
Zhao said there had been a "large reduction" in the number of vehicles that forcefully evaded the tolls. He said that in contrast to the 889 vehicles in October, each month from January to September an average of 19,222 vehicles charged through the tolls.
According to statistics from the Qinghai Provincial Highway Construction and Administration Bureau, from January to September, 173,000 vehicles evaded the toll by forcefully crossing the gate, causing 9.474 million yuan ($1.55 million) worth of damage. In 2012 that figure was 267,600 vehicles, causing damage of 14.71 million yuan.
Sometimes the fleeing cars can not be traced when they have license plates from other provinces or the license plate has been covered or even fabricated, Zhang Pengfa, an official with the toll office of the Highway Construction and Administration Bureau, told the Global Times.
Zhao Changsheng said that since 2012, the province has seen more and more toll evasions, with more than a half of the vehicles being trucks, and the number of vehicles evading the toll in 2012 had increased elevenfold compared with 2011.
They usually pass the toll booths forcefully by breaking through barriers, or dozens of vehicles attempt to pass through after one has paid, Zhang said.
"The crazy drivers even threatened the staff members with clubs and knives, and these staff are often abused and beaten by them," said Zhang.
However, experts have expressed concerns that the campaign is a temporary fix. Tao Yongli, deputy chief of the Qinghai Provincial Department of Transportation said that the government must establish long-term mechanisms that include setting up police offices at key toll gates and a blacklist for repeat offenders, the China News Service reported.
Chinese Net users said that one reason why motorists had bypassed the toll booths was the high cost of using highways.
Although the cost varies across different provinces, the cost for a heavy truck to use a highway is always more than 1 yuan per kilometer.
Qinghai is not the only province where motorists often attempt to charge through toll booths. Gansu recorded 120,000 vehicles forcefully passing the toll gates between the beginning of 2012 and June 2013, and the situation is getting worse, the Xinhua News Agency reported in June.