CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 22 September 2018

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Good roads put toll on pastoral ministry

HONG KONG (UCAN): As China mulls a new policy that would allow the limits on the duration of expressway tolls to be increased, Church personnel across the country have joined the general population in protesting against a scheme they say may be financially crippling.

China has developed the most extensive expressway network on earth. It has given priests and lay catechists a greater scope for their pastoral ministry, but they say a recent plan to amend regulations so that operators can continue to levy tolls for decades to come will make it difficult to afford to continue carrying on their work.

Joseph Lu, a lay leader, said the development of the highway network in the past decade has “significantly increased the efficiency of pastoral and evangelisation work as well as Church affairs’ administration.”

He added, “Now it takes less than two hours driving to go to any parish in my diocese in Jiangsu province. When there was no highway and our diocese had no vehicles of its own, we had to leave one day in advance for parish visits or Church activities. Two days were spent just on commuting to an event and it was a waste of time and energy.”

According to figures from the Ministry of Transport, at the end of 2014 China had the world’s biggest expressway network, with 111,950 kilometres of super highway.

The bulk of them have tolls, mostly at a rate of 0.5 yuan ($0.63) per kilometre with a minimum charge of five yuan ($6.25). A few are more expensive and can be as much as 0.66 yuan ($0.83) per kilometre.

In July, the ministry released a draft to amend the Administration Regulations of Toll Highways. The policy would see the abolition of set time limits on toll collection—a move that makes road construction and operation more attractive to investors, but more costly to drivers.

While economists have lauded the proposal, it has received a backlash from the public. Lu is among those who disagreed with the user-pays principle.

“The government has the responsibility to bear the cost of infrastructure,” he argues.

“It has collected taxes from the people, so it should use the public money on us. That’s what a responsible government should do. Otherwise, they are no different from the ancient bandits who forced people to pay for passing on their roads,” Lu fumed.

A Church worker from Wanzhou, who called himself Peter, estimated that his diocese spends 20,000 yuan ($25,000) on toll fees each year.

“Though many tunnels and bridges help cut the distance, the building cost should have already been recovered many years ago,” he said.

Wang Ting, the project officer of the Xi’an Diocese Social Service Centre, said the organisation spends vast sums to cover the toll costs incurred in its work.

“All our service programmes are in the rural villages and we need to pay frequent visits to these villages. The yearly cost for the centre to keep a vehicle is more than 30,000 yuan ($37,500), including gasoline, highway and bridge tolls,” Wang noted.

 

Because of frequent congestion, Wang claims, “The roads have lost their function, but they are still collecting tolls.”

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