At the beginning of April, the Transport Minister of Japan unveiled the new feature of the highway toll system, which is scheduled to take effect in June this year. This new system, which caps the fee on Expressways, is seen as another social testing measure by the new government, as well as the previously introduced feature of a toll-free system on limited expressways in provincial areas of Japan.
The new arrangement of the toll system sets caps for the highway fees depending on the size of the vehicle. The tariff fee caps at 2,000 yen for regular-sized car, 1,000 yen for small-sized vehicle and the fee caps at between 5,000 yen and 10,000 yen for trucks and buses depending on their size. The new system also addresses a cap for fuel-efficient cars at 1,000 yen; but, the completion of this particular course of action (for the fuel-efficient car) is expected to be delayed, since the gate requires the reading system to distinguish the appropriate vehicle entering the gates. For the time being, the reading system for fuel-efficient cars is expected to be ready in July.
In the past year, the new political party of Japan set the 1,000 yen discount on holidays and weekends for cars equipped with ETC devices as a part of their approach to a social testing, but, the present system is causing too heavy a financial burden on the country. This new system will, however, eliminate existing discounts on holidays and weekends as well as other special discounts for long distance drives on cars equipped with ETC by March 2011. The discounts for the short-distance driver (40km and 70km range) is exceptionally set from 20% to 40% during rush hours and late night driving. The discount for the short distance driving stays effective until March 2011, only for vehicles equipped with the ETC device. The new system starting in June is, in a more fair way, applicable to anyone, at anytime, on any day, regardless of whether their vehicle is equipped with the ETC (Electronic Toll Charge) device or not, if you drive for more than 70km in distance.
Although the new tariff system is applicable to anyone, the new system raises many criticisms. Since the cap becomes effective at the 70km point, it may result in some drivers, such as urban commuters, to pay more for driving short distances than before. The Shuto Expressway, which runs through the center part of Tokyo, and the Hanshin Expressway in Osaka are scheduled to set their tariffs based on distance starting at the end of this year (500 yen~900 yen for cars and 1000 yen~1800 yenfor trucks and buses), rather than keeping the existing fixed fee of 700 yen. Transportation companies in Japan, such as JR, also raise another controversy following the start of the new system, concerning the decline of demand of people using trains and ferries after June of this year. Shikoku Renraku Expressway, for instance, caps their fee at 3000 yen (1000 yen more) for cars, considering the strife ferry companies around the area may face due to the new tariff caps.
Lastly, this new arrangement seems to be another attempt of the new ruling government of Japan to get one step closer toward their campaign pledge to free tolls, even though some issues may arise as the system begins in June. The new system will definitely help us living in Misawa to make travel plans easier to remote areas. The new system, as well as the toll-free system on limited provincial expressways will be reviewed and adjusted later in the next fiscal year.
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