High-speed rail is not the only thing on the nation’s infrastructural to-do list. China’s General Administration of Civil Aviation has budgeted $62 billion to build 100 new airports by 2020. All of this new infrastructure is being seen as the signs of progress, but what has been missed is how high-speed rail and the new airports are a way for China to get around a major problem it faces: an exorbitant, toll-based road system.
For example Guangzhou to Beijing? A trip to the nation’s capital will run you close to $200 each way.
Driving on toll roads in China runs an average of 0.5 renminbi (7 cents) per kilometer, or nearly 12 cents per mile. For many types of cars, the tolls are greater than the cost of the fuel burned.
The high-speed rail lines connect only two, sometimes three, major cities. The tracks do not as yet cover the country well; they will not necessarily take passengers to where they want to go. There are already complaints that the rail stations do not connect properly to mass transit systems.
Forbes reports that one of the observations made by New Yorker writer Peter Hessler in his travel book Country Driving is that while China’s expressways are clean and well-maintained, they are by and large empty. An odd contradiction for an economy said to be the world’s largest auto market.
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