ETC to be Installed at All Tollgates of Expressways in Japan by FY2030

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A traffic jam is seen on the Tomei Expressway in Ayase, Kanagawa Prefecture, in August, amid a rush of travelers returning to the Tokyo metropolitan area from visits to hometowns or other destinations during the Bon holiday period.

The Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry announced Thursday that it will abolish booths handling cash at all expressway tollgates by around fiscal 2030 and make them only for use with the electronic toll collection (ETC) system.

About 1,500 toll collecting areas across the country will be subject to the plan. The new measure is expected to help expressway companies cut costs and ease traffic jams. Meanwhile, it remains a challenge to deal with drivers who do not use the ETC system.

■ Starting with urban areas

ETC is a system in which onboard devices and tollgates communicate, and expressway companies send data to credit card companies to charge the tolls.

According to the ministry, the proportion of ETC payments among all payments at tollgates of six expressway companies is currently 93% on average. However, across the whole country, there is only a single toll collection area that has only ETC tollgates, which is the one run by Metropolitan Expressway Co. in Yokohama, except for so-called “smart interchanges,” installed at expressway service areas and other places and connected to city streets for the exclusive use of ETC-equipped vehicles.

In the Tokyo metropolitan area, the process of making toll collection fully electronic will start in and after fiscal 2021 for the Metropolitan Expressway, the Ken-o Expressway and areas inside the expressways, according to a ministry plan. In the Chukyo metropolitan area, the process will begin on the Tokai-Kanjo Expressway and other expressways in fiscal 2022. In the Kinki metropolitan area, it will start in and after fiscal 2021 on such roads as the Hanshin Expressway. Other areas will be handled from fiscal 2022.

It will take time to install the ETC system on expressways with heavy traffic, but it will be installed at all tollgates by around fiscal 2030.

■ Changes in tolls

In July, experts at the transport ministry began discussing making toll collection fully electronic, following the closure of manned booths on the Metropolitan Expressway after a tollgate worker was found to have been infected with the novel coronavirus.

In August, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike requested the installment of the ETC system at all tollgates.

The ETC system will not only eliminate in-person contacts but also help ease traffic jams, because toll collections are instant. It will also allow tolls to be changed flexibly depending on traffic conditions and by time of day, as well as reduce labor costs.

However, consideration is needed for drivers who do not use the ETC system or who need to show their physical disability certificates when making payments, among others.

As an interim measure, the ministry proposed setting up a toll collection machine next to the ETC lanes or checking driver’s licenses or license plates using a camera to allow drivers to pay tolls later.

The ministry will study lowering the minimum deposit required to issue ETC Personal Card, which can be used for ETC toll payments in lieu of a credit card, from current ¥20,000 to ¥3,000.

An expressway company official said: “We would like to consider subsidizing the installations of ETC onboard devices [in vehicles].”