Electronic Toll Collect (ETC) used to be something that was exclusive to a few expressways in China. In the 1990s, the most visible sole example was the Airport Expressway in Beijing. Unsurprisingly, the highly efficient Swiss decided to equip their cars with this bit of advanced technology, so that when the former Swissair was still serving Beijing, their fleet, according to older versions of the Beijing ETC web site, was basically all ETC-ready.
Networked electronic tolling only became reality in the late 2000s, when Beijing and surrounding regions started to “link up” with one other, on expressways leading from Beijing to Chengde and other regions. Many more provinces soon joined in. Right now about close to half of China’s provinces have networked ETC systems ready, so that road users from different provinces no longer need to stop at the border toll gates separating two jurisdictions.
Completion of the nationwide ETC system is slated for September 2015, as current plans have it. By then, stopping at toll gates for ETC-ready cars with an on-board unit would have been a thing of the past — unless, maybe, if the driver was so happily driving that he or she forgot to top up!
The ETC system is being touted as a way to cut queues at toll gates, reduce gas emissions produced whenever cars come to a halt, then get moving again, and improve the efficiency of the national expressway network. It might take a little longer, though, for all toll gates in China to have an ETC option, but interprovincial travel will definitely be made easier beginning next autumn. For an increasing number of avid expat car drivers around the country (provided one can brave the jams and the sometimes rowdy behaviour of fellow motorists), it shouldn’t take you that long to reach your destination on the other side of the country once the whole system is ready.