Do planners ever consider the consequences of their decisions?
Can anyone really be surprised by the traffic chaos that engulfed China this past week over the Golden Holiday?
With the nation's roads toll-free for vehicles having seven or fewer seats during the holiday, which lasted from Sept 30 to Oct 7, it surely cannot have been so unpredictable that many would take up the chance of attempting to avoid the normal rail and air chaos and try instead to drive to their home towns.
According to official figures, as many as 81 million road journeys were made on the Saturday, a 7.6 percent increase from the same day last year. And traffic authorities in Beijing estimated a 40 percent rise on cars returning to the capital that same day. The country's 119 major scenic spots also saw a 21 percent rise in visitors from the same period last year.
During the 8-day holiday there were more than 68,000 reported traffic accidents, involving 794 people killed. That's almost 100 deaths per day from traffic accidents! If that had been in the UK there would have been a national outcry. But here, it seems, it takes up less than a paragraph in the news coverage.
I spent part of my holiday in Shanghai, where the crowds were so dense they had to close one of the metro stations for fear of people getting crushed. In the main touristy areas they even had PLA guards making human barricades at street junctions in order to get the traffic moving at all.
Part of the problem stems undoubtedly from the fact that as paid leave is not well implemented by a great many employers, many employees have little alternative if they want to visit their families or go sightseeing than to go during the two long holiday periods.
At least it is better than in the Middle East where in many places, according to Islamic tradition, the Eid holidays don't normally start until the new moon is first sighted – you cannot "prejudge what Allah will do" by looking up astronomical tables … and then there is a mad dash when EVERYONE tries to book their tickets at the same time. You thought China's holidays are chaotic? You haven't seen anything!
I guess nothing much will change here, therefore, until or unless the current system of holidays is changed fundamentally and people are able to choose when they want to travel, rather than having holiday dates imposed on them.
But I wonder what lessons have been learned this time around by the decision makers? Come the Spring break, will motor routes again have their tolls removed, working on the basis that people will have learned their lessons the hard way over this past week? Or instead will motorway tolls actually be increased, rather than abolished, leading to safer and faster routes, but once again making air and shipping a logistical nightmare? Or will nothing change at all?
Personally, I won't be placing bets on the likely outcome.