Japan from the inside out

Nothing more expensive than free tollroads

Posted by ampontan on Friday, April 9, 2010

LAST OCTOBER, a month after the Democratic Party of Japan formed a new government, then-Finance Minister Fujii Hirohisa appeared on a Sunday political blabathon to do something rare for a politician. He blandly asserted it was just copacetic for the party to make extravagant election campaign promises and then switch the chicken in every pot for a sparrow once they wound up in office. He suggested the DPJ government would be able to run in the next election on whatever it did manage to accomplish.

At least they’re going to kiss the electorate first before they…well, you get the idea.

This from a party that blew its own horn more often than the members of a national high school brass band competition for bringing manifestoes/political platforms to the forefront of Japanese election campaigns.

Someone seems to have muted those horns over the past six months.

Here’s another one they forgot to bring the musical score for: Eliminating the tolls on public expressways. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport released its new toll schedule today. Yes, drivers will still have to pay as they go.

  • A maximum toll of JPY 1,000 (about $US 10.73) had been in force for holidays. Sayonara and Via con Dios, baby. Now the upper limit is JPY 1,000 for minicars, JPY 2,000 for regular automobiles, JPY 5,000 for larger automobiles, and JPY 10,000 for very large vehicles (i.e., big trucks, buses, cement trucks, et al.) every day of the week.

As the result of earlier privatization measures, some expressways now offer a 50% discount during morning and evening commute hours. Those will all be wiped out too–an elimination of highway tolls in reverse.

  • Fuel efficient eco-cars that get more than 20 kilometers to the liter will be charged the same rate as minicars.
  • The rate for the Honshu-Shikoku Bridge Expressway will be a maximum of JPY 2,000 for minicars and JPY 3,000 for regular vehicles, in consideration of the competing ferry service.

The change upset Tokushima Gov. Iizumi Kamon, who had asked the government to keep the tolls on this road identical to the others. At a news conference, he said:

I’ve gone beyond anger to being filled with disappointment…Why should only Shikoku be subject to discrimination?

Mr. Iizumi thinks this will reduce tourism to his prefecture and have a negative impact on the distribution industry.

  • The fees will be based on distance traveled for the Metropolitan Expressway in Tokyo and the Hanshin Expressway in the Kansai region. The tolls for regular vehicles will be from JPY 500 to JPY 900, and up to JPY 1,800 for large vehicles. The cost of using these highways is now uniform.

Hanshin Expressway entrance in Kobe

Most of the tolls will take effect in June, but the discounts for eco-cars will begin in July. The starting date for the new fees for the Metro and Hanshin Expressways has not been settled, but is expected to be near yearend.

To be fair, they will partially keep their promise. Fifty segments of 37 highways nationwide will now be free, covering 1,620 kilometers. That accounts for 18% of the total. Hey, come on, they’ve got an upper house election to contest this summer. They’ve got to be able to campaign on something.

It might be a profitable exercise for a journalist to match up the free expressway areas with electoral districts to see if there’s a connection. You can be sure the DPJ did.

The government is now calling this a “social trial”, a term that could be equally applied to the government itself as well as the ordeal of the citizens. This plan is going to hit the budget for only JPY 100 billion in lost revenue, instead of the originally estimated JPY 600 billion had they kept their campaign promise.

An informal net survey of about 1,800 people produced the following responses.

Q: Are they breaking a campaign promise?
Yes: 83%
No: 17%

Q: Will they be able to make all expressways free by 2012?
Yes: 4%
No: 96%

Most interesting of all:

Q: Should they rescind the policy of eliminating tolls?
Yes: 81%
No: 19%

Maybe if we’re lucky, the political platform of the next government won’t be written in disappearing ink.

4 Responses to “Nothing more expensive than free tollroads”

  1. tokyoitte said

    You know people if we had the money we wouldn’t grouse so much.
    Taxes and tolls are necessary to pay for the roads, hospitals, maintenance, etc…Either way someone has to make the money.

  2. Andrew in Ezo said

    People realize that with toll-free roads, the peak travel times of Golden Week, Obon, and Oshogatsu will be even more intolerable than they are now, because tradition (and official and implied company holiday policy) dictates that everyone travels at the same time. Furthermore, trucking companies which depend on reasonably smooth traffic flows to deliver consignments on time are impacted adversely when everyone and their aunt is hogging expressway space.

  3. tokyoitte said

    No kidding it’s gotten insane with the recent 1,000 yen fees, bumper to bumper taffic for over 30 km in some cases. Free Toll roads no thanks,and don’t want highways to crumble and be in disrepair because of the lack of money. Nothing is free is in life get real!
    Thanks for the note.

    The issue is not about free roads. The issue is the conduct of the government.

    – A.

  4. […] Ampontan reports on the new toll system for toll roads….the ones that the government promised to remove before they were elected…. Tags: Broken Promises, Toll Roads Category: Politics  |  Comment (RSS)  |  Trackback […]

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