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Cars line up to pay tolls at the Yokosuka interchange on the Yokohama-Yokosuka Expressway on Thursday. Tolls on expressways in Japan will be getting cheaper March 28, but only for drivers using Electronic Toll Collection.
Cars line up to pay tolls at the Yokosuka interchange on the Yokohama-Yokosuka Expressway on Thursday. Tolls on expressways in Japan will be getting cheaper March 28, but only for drivers using Electronic Toll Collection. (Erik Slavin/S&S)
Cars line up to pay tolls at the Yokosuka interchange on the Yokohama-Yokosuka Expressway on Thursday. Tolls on expressways in Japan will be getting cheaper March 28, but only for drivers using Electronic Toll Collection.
Cars line up to pay tolls at the Yokosuka interchange on the Yokohama-Yokosuka Expressway on Thursday. Tolls on expressways in Japan will be getting cheaper March 28, but only for drivers using Electronic Toll Collection. (Erik Slavin/S&S)
Obtaining an ETC card could mean savings of hundreds and even thousands of dollars for servicemembers who take long trips or those who commute before 6 a.m.
Obtaining an ETC card could mean savings of hundreds and even thousands of dollars for servicemembers who take long trips or those who commute before 6 a.m. (Erik Slavin/S&S)

TOKYO — Traveling on Japan’s toll roads will get considerably cheaper beginning March 28, but Defense Department personnel who don’t speak some Japanese or have a Japanese relative might have a tough time reaping the benefits.

As part of a push to jump-start the crippled Japanese economy, the government is cutting several toll prices in and around its metropolitan areas. It also is cutting them drastically in other areas, especially on weekends.

The catch is that the discount will work only for drivers using Electronic Toll Collection, or ETC, which can be difficult for foreigners to obtain.

"Unless you have the electronic device, you really won’t notice any change," said Joe Tenis, deputy provost marshal for U.S. Forces Japan.

The changes won’t affect government vehicle operations or government toll tickets, Tenis added.

However, obtaining an ETC card could mean savings of hundreds and even thousands of dollars for servicemembers who take long trips or those who commute before 6 a.m.

Driving about 440 miles from Yokota Air Base outside Tokyo to Misawa Air Base in northern Honshu costs 13,900 yen one way, or about $145, depending on the route driven. Under the new rules, the same trip could cost as little as 1,000 yen, or about $11, with ETC on the weekend.

Commuters on Tokyo’s Shuto expressway or the Yokohama-Yokosuka expressway won’t get new discounts with ETC during weekdays, but they will receive existing discounts, which include a break on travel costs between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

oko-Yoko" will earn a 50 percent discount with ETC.Sunday and holiday travel costs a maximum of 500 yen on the Shuto.

The ETC card allows drivers to drive through toll plazas without stopping and paying with cash. A machine installed inside the vehicle reads the card and transmits the information to a machine at the plaza.

The fee is automatically deducted, and drivers receive a monthly bill.

Most Japanese use an ETC-branded credit card. However, foreigners often have difficulty obtaining a credit card in Japan.

Servicemembers have it even tougher because many credit card companies will ask for an alien registration card — which Defense Department personnel don’t receive with their Status of Forces Agreement visa.

However, foreigners can get an ETC card by applying directly to ETC. That requires a refundable deposit of between 40,000 and 100,000 yen.

It also requires a Japanese bank account for automatic deductions if no credit card is available.

Again, many banks will ask for an alien registration card to open an account. However, some bank branches near bases, such as Bank of Yokohama outside Yokosuka Naval Base, will accept a Defense Department identification card.

The ETC application form is available by calling ETC or at Japanese auto parts stores. It is entirely in Japanese.

If there is a problem with the application, the applicant must be able to communicate in Japanese on the telephone, or ETC may require a Japanese sponsor to co-apply.

Once the application is approved, the applicant will receive a bill for the deposit, which can be paid at a convenience store. The card arrives in about two weeks, ETC officials said.

Drivers must then purchase an ETC machine and have it installed in their vehicle, which generally costs between 5,000 and 10,000 yen.

The toll discounts are set to expire in March 2011, according to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism’s Web site.

The discounts are seen as a way to ease local congestion and spur Japan’s economy, which some economists believe is having its worst recession since World War II.

For information on ETC, go to www.go-etc.jp/english/system/index.html

Stars and Stripes reporter Bryce Dubee contributed to this story.

Driver savingsDriving on Japan’s expressways will become cheaper March 28 for motorists who use Electronic Toll Collection, or ETC.

Here is a sampling of some of the discounts available on some expressways:

Shuto (Tokyo area) — Weekdays, existing discounts; Sundays and holidays only, 500 yen maximum

Hanshin (Osaka) — Weekdays, 20 percent maximum; weekends, 500 yen maximum

Yokohama-Yokosuka — Weekdays, existing discounts; weekends, 50 percent

Near Hanshin and Shuto — Weekdays, 30 percent to 50 percent maximum; weekends, 30 percent to 50 percent

Rural areas — Weekdays, 50 percent maximum; weekends, 50 percent discount, 1,000 yen maximum

Source: ETC

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