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Tolls return to expressway as experiment ends

Date Posted: 2011-06-16

The idea was of politicians’ making, promising free expressways in Japan, but fiscal realities have prevailed and a Pilot Program for Toll-Free Expressways comes to an end at midnight Sunday.

The test program launched last year was the brainchild of the Democratic Party of Japan, which made the free expressways promises an integral element of its political campaign in 2009. The first phase of the toll-free expressways included Okinawa.

Starting at one minute after midnight Monday the 20th, tolls are back in place. Exactly what those toll fees will be for Okinawa Expressway users will be is still up-in-the-air. Expressway operator NEXCO and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism had announced fares would be exactly as they were before the experiment began last year, but negotiations headed by the Chief Secretary of the People’s New Party resulted in some discounts.

Mikio Shimoji convinced the Minster of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and tourism that the basic fare from Naha to Kyoda should be reduced from ¥1,000 to ¥900, while arguing the ETC fare should be increased by ¥100. Instead, NEXCO kept ETC prices as they were before.

NEXCO and the Ministry agreed, granting ETC owners discounts from 6 a.m. ~ 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. ~ 8 p.m. at 50% off, and a 30% discount from midnight to 4 am. The confusion point is that tolls resume Monday morning, but NEXCO has announced the new ¥900 maximum fare from Naha to Kyoda will not take effect until July 1st. NEXCO says the reduced price will be in effect from July 1st to March 31st 2012.

“There are many demands, and then, discussion of the organizations concerned,” said the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and tourism, so there is a possibility of changing fees.” The fare reductions will be absorbed from a convenience promotion project of the Ministry, which will pay 30% of the fee, while NEEXCO will cover ETC discounts.

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