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Electronic Toll Collection Ready for Use on Japan's Expressways

January 8, 1999

By the year 2000, an electronic toll collection system is expected to be partially implemented on expressways in the Tokyo metropolitan area; this system is expected to play a major role in alleviating traffic congestion. With this system, drivers can use a small transponder to automatically pay their tolls at toll booths without stopping to receive passage tickets or hand over cash. This could greatly reduce the amount of time it takes to pass through toll booths. The national government's emergency economic package, which passed the Diet in November 1998, includes a plan to implement this system on all expressways within the next few years.

Wireless Transactions Make For Smooth Driving
Electronic toll collection (ETC) is made possible by a wireless communication system made up of sensors set up in toll booths and small transponders, containing data on computer chips, mounted on vehicles. When a vehicle passes through a toll booth, the place of entrance is automatically recorded on the transponder's chip; when it later exits the expressway, sensors read the data, automatically assess the toll, and deduct it from the driver's bank account later.

Users have to pay for the transponders themselves, but manufacturers are working to reduce the cost of these devices. By the time the system is fully implemented, they aim to reduce the cost to between 10,000 and 20,000 yen (91 and 182 U.S. dollars at 110 yen to the dollar) per unit.

It is estimated that 35% of traffic congestion is caused by waits at toll booths. The time it takes to collect tolls by hand creates a traffic bottleneck; one of the main goals of the ETC system is to reduce this traffic congestion, as well as reduce the cost of staffing these booths.

If the ETC system is adopted, the amount of time it takes for a vehicle to pass through a toll booth can be reduced by as much as 10 seconds. This will increase each booth's vehicle processing rate four- or five-fold, representing a huge relief to traffic congestion. The Ministry of Construction (MOC) estimates that if this system is implemented nationwide, the economic stimulus brought about by the relief in traffic congestion will amount to 700 billion yen (6.4 billion dollars).

Pilot Program Soon to be Implemented Nationwide
A pilot ETC program in the city of Odawara (southwest of Tokyo) was completed in spring 1998. Another test program centered on buses is currently underway at the Kisarazu toll booth on the Chiba side of the Trans Tokyo Bay Highway.

At the earliest, the ETC system will be implemented in 50 locations throughout the Tokyo metropolitan area by around January 2000; the exact date of implementation will depend on the data gathered by the MOC from the pilot programs. This first stage of implementation will see the system installed in one or two lanes of every toll plaza in the Tokyo area. In addition, the MOC plans to gradually introduce the system in 100 locations throughout Japan by March 2000. If all goes well, the system will be installed nationwide "as quickly as possible," according to ministry sources.

ETC has already been implemented in more than 10 other countries, including the United States. In some of these countries, however, different expressways have their own toll systems, which are not compatible with the others. The MOC's goal is to create a more user-friendly system, where a motorist can use the same transponder at any toll booth in Japan.

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Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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