March 27, 2009,09:37 +0900(JST) ETC and traffic congestion information
As one of the Japanese government's economy-boosting policy measures, expressway tolls will be reduced across the country, starting March 28.
Since automobiles must be equipped with an electronic toll collection (ETC) device to benefit from the toll reduction, and since governmental subsidies are available for the purchase of new ETC devices until the end of March, people are rushing to shops, and shops are running out of ETC devices stock all over Japan.
Automobiles equipped with an ETC device have been increasing in number for its driver convenience (no need for cash at tollbooths) and administrative cost-cutting effect. At present, about 30% of all registered automobiles and 77% of expressway users, or 22.96 million vehicles, have an ETC aboard. The toll reduction is expected to popularize the ETC device even more.
Ahead of the rest of the country, the Tokyo Bay Aqua Line and the Honshu-Shikoku Bridge Expressway introduced reduced tolls on March 20. Accordingly, the toll for the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, which I often use to go back to my hometown on Awaji Island, has also been reduced. It used to cost 3,650 yen to drive from Kobe West Interchange to Sumoto Interchange, and 5,450 yen to Naruto; now it's only 1,000 yen. On March 20, it was reported that roads and parking areas were crowded all around the country, thanks to the reduced tolls, coupled with the fine May-like weather.
From now on, more people will probably use expressways to benefit from the reduced tolls on weekends and public holidays; crowded roads and parking areas will then become matters of serious concern.
Unfortunately, Sumitomo Electric does not manufacture ETC systems. However, we do develop and sell system software for ETC that calculates tolls, which are often revised within a short period of time, changing complexly depending on the day of the week and the time zone. This software is important in assisting driving planning. Sumitomo Electric also contributes to society through such ingenious products as our traffic counters (traffic volume measuring devices), which inspect road traffic congestion conditions, and our parking availability information systems, which provide information on service and parking area congestion.
Some have expressed concern over expressway toll reduction as an economy booster, since this can lead to excessively crowded roads and parking areas, and could adversely affect the business of ferryboat companies, which compete with expressways for customers. I sincerely hope that it will lead to substantial revitalization at regional and eventually nationwide levels, commensurate with the policy’s 500 billion yen financial scale.