China has launched a year-long national campaign targeting illegal highway tollbooths amid rising public outcry over the management of the country's tollway system.
Initiated on Monday by five central government departments, the campaign is designed to eliminate unauthorized tollbooths, as well as legal tollbooths that are continuing to operate beyond their authorization period.
The campaign is also intended to prevent other illegal practices regarding the collection of highway tolls. These practices include changing the status of government-funded roads to make them into for-profit commercial routes and charging unreasonably high tolls in some areas.
Increasingly high toll charges and the establishment of illegal toll stations have long been criticized by the public.
According to a 2008 report issued by the National Audit Office (NAO) on toll roads in 18 of China's provinces, 16 of those provinces were found to have illegally collected a total of 14.9 billion yuan (around 2.3 billion U.S. dollars) in toll charges from a total of 158 unauthorized stations on 100 highways as of the end of 2005.
The report also showed that seven provinces had intentionally raised highway tolls, resulting in unapproved toll profits of 8.2 billion yuan.
The auditing body also found that authorities in all 18 provinces spent 29.1 billion yuan in toll revenues on projects and items that the funds were never intended to go to. Highway tolls are supposed to be used to pay back loans that were previously used to fund the construction of the nation's highways.
Media reports said that some local governments have taken to setting up multiple toll stations over short distances, while others have approved the extension of toll collection periods, even after local highway loans have been paid back in full.
One of the most widely criticized examples is the Zhengzhou Yellow River Highway Bridge in central China's Henan Province. The toll bridge which was in use starting from 1986.