Cleaners work at the Dujiakan Toll Gate on the Beijing-Hong Kong-Macao Expressway Sunday. Traffic was flowing smoothly as of Sunday night. Photo: Li Hao/GT
The traffic on expressways entering Beijing did not witness serious gridlock on Sunday, the end of the eight-day national holidays, a surprise to many who feared major bottlenecks as tens of thousands of holidaymakers drove back to the capital.
Beijing Municipal Commission of Transport predicted Saturday that huge numbers of people were expected to return from their holidays Sunday, and warned that traffic congestion may last from morning to 8 pm Sunday.
According to predicted figures, nearly 1.7 million vehicles were expected to travel on the city's 17 highways on Sunday, a 40 percent increase from the same day last year.
With the added incentive of the special "toll-free" policy, the number of vehicles has put enormous pressure on Beijing's highway network, which is expected to reach a volume of 13 million vehicles over the eight days, the Legal Mirror reported.
However, Beijing Traffic Management Bureau told the Global Times Sunday that the congestion situation is not as bad as was imagined, although the highways linking Beijing with Hong Kong and Macao, Tibet, Chengde in Hebei Province and Kaifeng in Henan Province were overstressed during last year's October holidays.
According to the bureau's monitoring report, as of 3 pm on Sunday, heavy traffic jams only occurred at the Xisanqi section of the Beijing-Tibet Expressway and on the Beijing-Kaifeng Expressway due to traffic accidents.
"We recorded some road accidents on Sunday morning, which aggravated the heavy traffic on some expressway sections, such as a rear-end accident on the Beijing-Tibet Expressway, resulting in slow traffic flow on the road. But other highways see smooth traffic currently," the director of the publicity department, surnamed Wang, told the Global Times on Sunday afternoon.
He pointed out that perhaps the early warnings of severe congestion had led to the lighter than expected traffic on Sunday, leading residents to return earlier to avoid the traffic peak.
In addition, expressways resumed toll collections as of Sunday, eight days after governments piloted a new policy to exempt road tolls for vehicles with fewer than seven seats on highways.
Small passenger vehicles were allowed to directly pass toll stations without getting a toll card from October 4, a move to further prevent traffic jams. Although the highway tolls were removed from September 30, there was still congestion at toll gates, as drivers were still required to take a toll card until the government intervened.
Deng Wei, head of the Dujiakan Toll Gate on the Beijing-Hong Kong-Macao Expressway, said the toll gate tallied 7,000 inbound vehicles passing through per hour, 2,000 more than that during the same period last year when cars were charged toll fees.
"We've taken measures to prevent jams, such as opening all gates, but up to now, we haven't seen heavy congestion," Deng said, "Toll cards would start being distributed from 9 pm Sunday."
Cong Zemin, a Beijing resident driving back from Jilin Province on the Beijing-Shenyang Expressway Sunday, said he did not imagine that he would have such a smooth journey home.
"I departed around 6 am in the morning since I had prepared enough time for the traffic jams. But to my surprise, it only took nine hours," he said.
The traffic volume reached nearly 1.6 million vehicles on the highways on September 30, the first day of the National Day holiday, an increase of 26 percent compared with the same period last year, including 676,000 inbound vehicles and 920,000 outbound. The Beijing-Hong Kong-Macao, Beijing-Kaifeng and Beijing-Tibet expressways witnessed long-lasting heavy traffic congestion on that day, according to the Xinhua News Agency.
Traffic authorities also warned that Monday is the first working day after the holiday, so residents should leave enough time for their journey to work.