Chinese Back Roads – How to Avoid a Toll at Any Cost

I’ve posted before about my fear of the Chinese back road – the roads connecting villages and cities that may be windy, full of potholes, paved or not, covered with bicyclists and pedestrians and lately, covered with cars and trucks avoiding highway tolls.

Many areas of China have fairly good expressways and highways. They are usually made up of four lanes and are paved and maintained regularly. (Never mind the people along the shoulders sweeping the dust.) The problem? Most of them require a toll payment. I’d much rather pay a toll than have to endure the roller coaster ride is that the back roads. But not most Chinese drivers. While the tolls seemed reasonably priced to a Westerner, just a dollar or two, they can seem exorbitant to people who make between a few hundred dollars to a thousand dollars a year.

The New York Times today has an article on just this subject. Journalist Jim Yardley reports from the small Chen Village, on the outskirts of Shijiazhuang. The locals are trying to stop trucks and drivers from diverting through the village to avoid the tolls. The heavy trucks (and you have never seen an overloaded truck until you have seen a truck in China) are destroying their roads. Some villagers say that the village officials are charging tolls of their own, something the two officials deny. (And something made illegal a few years ago.)

I used to live in the outskirts of Shijiazhuang, and I know exactly what they are talking about. When we got into a taxi to take us into the city or back out of the city, a complex negotiation always had to take place involving price, route, toll charges, etc. In fact, one of the only Chinese phrases I knew well at the time was the equivalent of: Take me to the airport for 100 kuai on the highway. (100 kuai being a very good price for this trip, the taxi drivers would still try to extort more money.) I am not sure if I ever diverted through Chen Village, but I certainly did divert through ZhengDing and XingChengPu and probably others. I’m glad to have that experience behind me.

As a side note, last year I posted a short video of a taxi ride down those back roads on YouTube. A few days ago, I received a comment from someone who had watched the video. He asked me what the deal was, that it seemed perfectly safe. The fact that the taxi driver overtakes vehicles with trucks coming head on at him didn’t seem safe to me, but what do I know.

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2 Responses to “Chinese Back Roads – How to Avoid a Toll at Any Cost”

  1. sofia L.S. Says:

    Sometime you just have to let go, sofia

  2. global gal Says:

    I’m not sure what you mean.

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