Electronic Toll Collection System, or ETC, is the wireless toll system used on Japanese expressways. With it, you can breeze through collection points and the toll is automatically charged to your account- without stopping at a toll booth. The ETC system was instituted to relieve congestion caused by traffic jams at toll booths. Eliminating these jams, could reduce total traffic congestion by 30%. Besides saving time, this also improves fuel efficiency, reduces CO2 emissions, and lowers vehicle wear and tear caused by stop and go traffic at toll collection points.
The ETC system itself is comprised of two parts importance to a consumer. The first part is the ETC card. To get a one, you must apply to a credit card company that offers this service. The card functions like a credit or debit card; wirelessly debiting your account automatically as you pass through the gates. To do this, the card must be inserted into the second part of the system, a card reader and broadcast device installed in the car. The card reader is available for below 10,000 yen at auto dealers, automotive parts stores, repair shops, and online. Most shops will install it for you for an additional fee, and though it appears possible to install it on your own as well, it is not recommended. The simplest way to get a card reader is to purchase one through an auto parts store, and arrange for the installation and configuration there.
The card reader and the card are not exclusive to each other. Any card, when inserted into any card reader, will bill to the owner of that card when a toll is incurred, not the owner of the car. Therefore, a family with several cars could share one card to pay for and track all their toll charges. Conveniently, inserting your card into the reader of a rental car, or a car borrowed from a friend, makes paying tolls simpler as the tolls will be billed to you directly, rather than the rental agency or your friend. You can even split the cost of a trip by simply swapping cards for the return trip.
The ETC cards are available in two varieties. One is a straight ETC card used only to pay tolls, and the other is a combination card that can be used as a credit card for shopping as well. Like any credit card, fees, requirements, and benefits vary between companies and cards. Some companies even offer “gold cards” with annual fees, and many extras. Applying for an ETC card and paying the bill every month will be familiar to anyone who already has a credit card, as the process is the same.
Getting an ETC card is relatively simple if you have a Japanese bank account and credit card. The easiest way is to contact the company you already have a Japanese credit card through and apply for an ETC card as an additional service. Alternatively, a Japanese bank account is a requirement of the system, but if you do not have a credit card it is possible to get an ETC card if you pay a security deposit, and associate the account with your bank account.
This process is very Japanese language intensive and slow, but because many foreign residents have a hard time getting a credit card from a Japanese bank or company, many expats fall into this unfortunate category and have no other option. The required security deposit is 40,000 yen, and tolls will be deducted from your bank account directly-not from that deposit. To get a secured card like this, you must get an ETC application from a toll collection point on the expressway, or at the information booth in a service area on the expressway. Fill it out completely (it’s in Japanese) and send it in with a copy of a utility bill from your current residence, and if it is accepted, ETC will send you a bill for the deposit, which is payable at a convenience store. After you have paid the deposit, you should receive your card within a week, and your deposit will be held until cancel the account and return the card.