Driving in China is a whole subject unto itself, and I will develop this more on my blog over time.
ETC stands for electronic toll collection. It’s a small device that is glued horizontally to the top of your windscreen, just left of the rearview mirror, and into which a card is inserted for paying tolls remotely.
In normal circumstances, it allows you to bypass the queues for those without ETC, and drive straight through any functioning toll station nationwide at reduced speed, saving you time, and also the need to fumble through wallets, pockets or passengers for spare cash.
I say normal, because there is one unfortunate aspect to ETC which has not been resolved even to this day.
You still get people who haven’t installed the ETC card going through the ETC lane, whether it be by mistake or wanting to skip the queues. When this happens, the barrier doesn’t lift, and the workers will make you reverse back out of the lane and push into the normal queue.
What makes this even worse is the fact that by the time the guilty party is stopped by the barrier, a whole line of cars has usually piled up behind, and everybody has to reverse back to make way.
I always fear this happening, so I on approaching the ETC lane, I slow right down and make sure the car the in front has passed the barrier before proceeding.
In Korea, I remember that the barrier will still lift for people without the equivalent of ETC, but there’s a fine or much higher rate charged for doing this. I hope this will be implemented in China some day soon.
There is also a scam I heard on the news once about ETC cards. Toll payments are done remotely, and when drivers leave their cars, the card is usually left inside the device. There have been some instances where people with a POS机, a bank card reader that can be held above the ETC device through the windscreen, and payment can be deducted through to a scamster’s personal account.
This doesn’t work everywhere, but you can take precautions by either removing the ETC card from the device when you leave the car, or by cancelling the pinless payment setting at your bank, which is often the default mode for payments under 300 Yuan.
On a happier note
The process for acquiring an ETC card is relatively painless.
ETC is linked to a customer’s bankcard, so most banks of course offer an agreement and installation service, with about a 3% discount on tolls given. The other alternative is to drive to an ETC centre and sign with them directly. In Chongqing, there are two I know of, both located on the outskirts of the city by the ringroad motorway junctions.
This will only be relevant to you if you own a car in China, and all the foreigners I know here who drive are married to Chinese women, and they are the ones who usually own the car and do all the ground work here. This is godsend for most, as unless you speak Chinese, you can expect this simple process to be more traumatising than it should.
To cut a long story short, then. You hava a Chinese bank account and credit card. You go to your bank or an ETC centre, take your queue ticket, and fill out the paperwork. After this, they will issue you with the card and device, and tell you take it to your car and have a member of staff install it in a few seconds. They quickly test all is working, and then you’re on your way.
The card is topped up 500 Yuan a time from your credit whenever the balance falls below 200 Yuan, in Chongqing at least.
Like I said, I will develop the subject of driving in China in due course, but in the meantime, I hope you’ve enjoyed this article, and please let me know your thoughts and comments.