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2010年4月11日 (日)

高速割引見直し 値上げで建設費に回す無節操

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Apr. 11, 2010)

Taking a wrong turn on expressway tolls
高速割引見直し 値上げで建設費に回す無節操(4月10日付・読売社説)

The policy compiled by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama to revise the current system of discounts on expressway tolls can be summarized in the following way: The Cabinet was hard-pressed to secure funds for construction of new expressways, and decided to effectively raise the tolls to get the money it needs.

With implementation of the new system in June, many expressway users will likely pay more. Constructing new expressways and widening current expressways is appropriate, as such improvements bring about positive economic effects and also help prevent accidents. However, the policy obviously contradicts the Cabinet's attitude, which has been negative toward improvement and construction of expressways.

The reduction of toll discounts also runs against the policy of making expressways free, a policy the Hatoyama Cabinet still claims to uphold. It must be quite difficult for the administration to get the public's understanding for the new system.

The new discount system will drastically change the system that was introduced under the administration of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito coalition.


No more 1,000 yen cap

The extremely popular "1,000 yen toll for unlimited travel" discount system for vehicles equipped with electronic toll collection (ETC) devices on weekends and holidays will be abolished. Discounts for certain times of day, such as early morning and late night, will also be abolished after the current fiscal year.

Instead, toll caps will be introduced--1,000 yen for minicars, 2,000 yen for regular passenger cars and 5,000 yen for larger vehicles. No additional charges will be added to these tolls. There is also a program to give preferential treatment to fuel-efficient vehicles.

The new system will be applied not only on weekends but also on weekdays, regardless of whether vehicles are equipped with ETC devices. Drivers of vehicles not equipped with ETC devices and those traveling long distances on weekdays will benefit greatly from the new system.

However, the new system has blind spots. The average daily travel distance of a regular passenger car on an expressway is about 60 kilometers on the weekend and about 40 kilometers on weekdays. Such distances are too short to reach the upper limit of the toll. What is even worse, the tolls to be paid by drivers in that range will be higher than the current ones.

For the Metropolitan and Hanshin expressways, the current flat-rate tolls based on prefectural zones and the zones themselves will be abolished. Instead, there will be a system that requires drivers to pay 500-900 yen on a scale determined by travel distance.

On those two expressways, the new tolls will be lower than the current ones for short-distance driving, but tolls for long-distance driving will go up in some cases and down in others. Drivers are bound to become confused.


Move is just for securing funds

The Hatoyama administration is revising the discount system because it wants to secure funds for construction of expressways.

Three trillion yen has already been allocated to make up for the reduction in toll revenues under the current discount system. Of that, only 500 billion yen has been spent, leaving 2.5 trillion yen. Out of this, the new system will save 1.4 trillion yen, which can be used for construction of new expressways.

The Hatoyama Cabinet focused on the revenue for the current discount system because the Democratic Party of Japan made strong calls for the promotion of expressway improvement and construction programs in December last year.

If funds for the construction of expressways are necessary, the administration should be logical enough to prepare a budget for that purpose in a proper fashion. As the Hatoyama Cabinet does not have a consistent expressway policy, it has chosen to take a wrong turn with its inappropriate toll-raising measure.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun,April 10, 2010)
(2010年4月10日02時18分  読売新聞)


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