Thursday, April 15, 2010

Limited Express

One of the DPJ's announced aims was to do away with expressway tolls. They said--and still say, in a vague and unconvincing way--that Japan's expressways would become, well...freeways.

The 1000 yen weekend and holiday discount was supposed to be a step toward this. I've talked about this earlier, and although I wouldn't call it a complete failure, it certainly has been far from an unqualified success. The real motivation seems to have been stimulating domestic tourist spending in the hinterlands rather than trying to learn anything from the experiment regarding making expressways free, as was sometimes claimed. It certainly "enhanced" traffic congestion.

Now the government has come up with a new plan, and its recently announced details seem to have made almost nobody happy. Based around a 2000 yen cap on tolls, it actually raises the tolls for short (under 70 km) runs, and puts the so-called Metropolitan Expressway on a stepped distance-based scale, with the highest toll for ordinary passenger vehicles 200 yen higher than the current flat rate of 700 yen.

Short-haul delivery companies and truckers are understandably upset, as are those who remember that just around the time that the Metropolitan Expressway was supposed to have paid for itself and become free, the tolls were raised from 500 to their current levels. Now they are, for many potential users, being raised again.

Nevertheless, these changes are being touted as reductions and  as steps toward making Japan's expressways toll-free.

Then there's the issue of whether it makes sense to buy and install the costly ETC equipment. I'll bet a lot of drivers who bought them to take advantage of the 1000 yen holiday rates are kicking themselves now.

I'm certainly not going to buy an ETC device, and I wouldn't even if I did enough expressway driving to justify it by the slightly increased convenience and minimally faster toll gate passage. I might save myself a total of 10 minutes or so between northern Saitama and my office, but with the new rates my tolls would go from 2600 yen to 3400 yen.

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