February 7, 2014 2:00 am JST

Japan mulls raising highway tolls during busy hours

Toll fees will be ratcheted up during peak hours.

TOKYO -- Japan's Transport Ministry is considering increasing highway tolls when traffic is heavy and reducing them during off-peak hours in an effort to alleviate congestion.

   Thanks to electronic toll collection systems and dedicated short-range communications -- made available by equipment installed on roads -- monitoring traffic conditions has become easier in Japan, where about 90% of highway users have ETC devices on their vehicles.

   On the Shuto Expressway serving greater Tokyo, a regular passenger car paying via the ETC system is charged fixed tolls, which range from 500 yen to 900 yen ($4.87 to $8.77) depending on the section. Where the normal toll is 700 yen, for example, the fee may be raised to 900 yen when roads get crowded. This information would then be sent to drivers via car navigation systems and the ETC system as a way of inducing them to take alternate routes.

   Exactly how tolls would be linked to congestion have yet to be hammered out. The ministry plans to begin studying such details in fiscal 2014, so that system design will be complete by the summer of 2015.

   To avoid confusing drivers with tolls that could change too frequently, the ministry also may initially set fixed hours for the higher and lower tolls for each highway.

   According to the ministry, major loop highways in Tokyo are prone to jams when more than 1,400 vehicles use one lane in an hour, and that such congestion currently persists from morning to evening. When the number drops by 10% or so, traffic flows better and cars can run at speeds of 70kph.

   The ministry aims to introduce the new fee system as early as fiscal 2016, initially in greater Tokyo and then in the Kinki region in fiscal 2017. It will present the outline to an expert panel on Friday.

(Nikkei)

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