The ETC toll system (Electronic Toll Collection) is an automated payment system for Japanese expressways. Toll gates communicate with an in-car radio transmitter to deduct the fare from a ETC card which is linked to a credit card (only certain Japanese credit card issuers provide ETC cards; foreign-issued cards cannot be used with ETC). Most expressway entrances have ETC priority lanes, meaning faster passage through the toll gates, while smaller entrances may have a combined ETC/normal pay lane.
The intial installation of the equipment costs approximately ¥12000, but you can earn this back quite quickly through the various discounts on offer for ETC users.
Discounts for NEXCO (Inter-city) ExpresswaysEdit
- Commuter discount (通勤割引 tsūkin-waribiki?) - drive between the hours of 6am to 9am or 5pm to 8pm and get a 50% discount for journeys under 100km (applicable only outside the greater Tokyo/Osaka areas).
- Late night, early morning discount (早朝夜間割引 sōchō-yakan-waribiki?) - drive between the hours of 10pm and 6am and get a 50% discount for journeys under 100km (applicable only within the greater Tokyo/Osaka areas).
- Night-time discount (深夜割引shinya-waribiki?) - drive between the hours of midnight and 4am and get 30% off the normal fare (any distance, anywhere)
As long as you either enter or exit the expressway within the discount period, the discounted rate will apply. For example, you can enter the expressway at 8:30am, exit at 10am, and still receive the discount.
Note on previous loophole (No longer works around 2012, the ETC service is also recording the ETC Unit's ID, so unless you want to use multiple ETC Units and multiple ETC cards): The half price peak-time discount was brought in for a regular commuter who travels less than 100Km to and from work each day. Only 1 discount is allowed for each discount period per day on each ETC card (eg. on the same day, you can use the commuter discount in the morning and evening, but not twice in the evening).
But since any ETC card can be used with any ETC system installed in a car, if you're travelling with a few friends with different ETC cards you could travel much further. With a bit of planning, you can travel just under 100km, exit the expressway, then re-enter using a friend's ETC card.
Other expressway authorities that provide ETC (Shuto Expressway, Nagoya Expressway, etc.) may also provide their own discounts.
ETC Mileage ServiceEdit
Also available to ETC users is the ETC Mileage Service, roughly equivalent to a frequent flyer program. By registering for the service, the user will accumulate points which can then be redeemed for free expressway travel.
For travelling on NEXCO (inter-city) expressways,
- Every ¥50 paid in tolls will give you 1 point.
- 100 points = ¥200 free travel
- 200 points = ¥500 free travel
- 600 points = ¥2500 free travel
- 1000 points = ¥8000 free travel
- Points are only redeemable at the 100, 200, 600, and 1000 point levels.
Other expressway authorities (Hanshin Expressway, Honshu-Shikoku Bridges, etc) have separate point schemes. Points are not transferable between different expressway authorities. Points that are more than a year old also become invalid every year on March 31st at midnight. However, free travel balances (points that have already been redeemed) will never expire.
Notes on ETC UsageEdit
If all ETC lanes at a toll gate are closed due to an accident or maintenance, simply present your ETC card to an available toll booth agent and they will be happy to help you.
ETC toll gates can be more accident-prone than normal gates. Commonly, many drivers forget to insert their ETC card into their ETC devices and crash into the control arms, or brake rapidly and get rear-ended by close-following cars. Use caution and stay alert to your surroundings at all times while passing through ETC toll gates.
The expiration date of your ETC card and the credit card that it is linked to are often different. Be certain to confirm the expiration dates on both cards before travelling.