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2014年2月18日 (火)

高速有料の延長 安全確保にはやむを得ない

The Yomiuri Shimbun February 17, 2014
Expressway toll system must be continued to ensure safety
高速有料の延長 安全確保にはやむを得ない(2月17日付・読売社説)

With an extension of up to 15 years, or up until 2065, eyed for the expressway toll-collection system, the government has submitted a bill to the current Diet session for revising the Special Measures Law Concerning Road Construction and Improvement.

The rebuilding and repair of aging expressways is urgently needed to ensure the safety of their users.

About 40 percent of all expressway sections have been in use for 30 years or longer.

In December 2012, ceiling panels in the Sasago Tunnel on the Chuo Expressway in Yamanashi Prefecture collapsed apparently due to aging, an incident that created many victims.

Because of its financial woes, the government can hardly afford to invest huge amounts of public funds into maintaining expressways. Extending the toll-collecting period is unavoidable as the expenses involved in renovations and repairs must be covered mainly by toll revenues.

Six expressway operators, including the Tokyo Metropolitan Expressway Co., have recently estimated their renovation and repair costs to total ¥4 trillion in the next dozen years or so.

When privatizing then Japan Highway Public Corp. in 2005, the government came up with a projection to make expressways toll-free by having the public corporation’s debt of about ¥40 trillion repaid through toll revenues up until 2050.

The projection, however, failed to fully take into account the colossal expenses of repairs and related work in the future. There can be no denying that the projection was based on overly optimistic estimates.

All expressway companies must do their utmost to keep a tight rein on road renovation and repair costs so that expressway users in the future are not forced to shoulder excessively heavy burdens.

End toll-free policy

The expressway companies also should use their ingenuity for tapping private-sector funds through such measures as selling or renting the rights to use the space above expressways and the ground below elevated ones.

Another issue of high importance is the renovation of expressways to make them easier and safer to use, such as by making them wider and reducing the number of tight curves, instead of simply rebuilding aged expressways with few design improvements.

Thus we cannot help but find it questionable that the government has been continuing to uphold the goal of making expressways free of charge in the future.

Given that expressways will certainly remain in use regardless of whether they become toll-free, it is evident that additional expenses will be necessary to fund renovation and repair projects in the future. The problem of how to secure new sources of revenue to take the place of tolls is bound to be raised.

In light of this, it is unavoidable to thoroughly review the current expressway policy, which is premised on abolishing expressway tolls in the future. It may be a feasible option to continue to levy low tolls for many years to come.

It is reasonable that the government has now decided to reduce toll discounts for motor vehicles equipped with electronic toll-collection systems starting in April.

Since 2008, about ¥3 trillion of taxpayers’ money in the aggregate has been used for the toll discount system. Discounts, however, should be carried out as part of expressway operators’ services offered through their business management efforts.

The specifics of toll discounts have been changed with every change of administration, and they have become highly complicated and unintelligible in the eyes of drivers.

The current discount system should be scrutinized in terms of its effectiveness and be revamped into a new system to make the discounts more useful for such purposes as revitalizing distribution systems and alleviating traffic congestion on ordinary roads.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 17, 2014)
(2014年2月17日00時04分  読売新聞)


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