Photo/IllutrationThe Metropolitan Expressway around Edobashi Junction in Tokyo’s Chuo Ward (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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Drivers on Tokyo's Metropolitan Expressway may face increased tolls depending on the time of day during the upcoming Olympics to ease expected traffic congestion along the route, sources said Feb. 6.

The Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Games and the Tokyo metropolitan government are considering an adjusted road pricing system for the "Shutoko" expressway, though there are some concerns that the public may oppose such a move.

In the case of cars that use the electronic toll collection (ETC), fees ranging from 500 yen ($4.60) to 3,000 yen could be added to conventional tolls ranging from 300 yen to 1,300 yen when competitions are under way, they added.

“Shutoko will be a main route used by participants in the Games and other related people. In our discussions, we agreed that it is necessary to take additional measures, such as increased road pricing, to decrease traffic volume further,” a metropolitan government official said Feb. 6 after a meeting with experts on traffic engineering and Games-related officials.

The organizing committee and the metropolitan government will decide within this year whether to introduce the added road pricing after examining the surcharges and effects with the transport ministry.

Measures to deal with traffic congestion are among the most important challenges for officials related to the Games. The number of vehicles that carry athletes and related parties is expected to be about 6,000.

Unless appropriate measures are taken, traffic congestion forcing vehicles to crawl along at speeds slower than 20 kph is expected to occur frequently in various parts of the capital, seriously impacting economic activities and residents' daily lives.

The organizing committee and the metropolitan government thus set a goal of decreasing traffic volume on major roads in the metropolitan area by 15 percent from conventional weekday volume.

They also designated 16 districts in Tokyo as areas where higher priority has to be given to taking measures to decrease traffic volume, and asked companies in those districts to curb deliveries or adjust delivery times.

However, such requests are not legally binding. Some trucking companies would be unwilling to accept them, as personnel costs would increase if delivery times are shifted to early morning or late at night.

In addition, the International Olympic Committee demanded that legally binding measures also be considered.

According to the land ministry, road pricing was introduced in Singapore in 1998. At that time, the traffic volume in the central part of the city state decreased by 15 percent.

Officials of the Tokyo metropolitan government and the Japanese central government believe that the higher tolls will become an effective measure to decrease traffic volume during the Tokyo Games.

Toshitaka Miyata, president of Metropolitan Expressway Co., showed a positive stance toward the introduction of new road pricing for the Olympics.

“If the organizing committee or the metropolitan government issue an instruction, we will (analyze its effects) concretely,” he said.

As the higher road pricing will increase financial costs for expressway users, an executive of the organizing committee said, “If the tolls are raised for the Olympics, we could be criticized.”

In 2018, the introduction of daylight saving time was considered for the Olympic period to protect athletes and spectators from the high heat of summer, but the measure was not realized due to opposition.

"The public's opposition to the introduction (of higher tolls) could be bigger than that to the introduction of daylight saving time," a related official said.

To raise tolls for the circular route of the Metropolitan Expressway and some roads inside the route, it is necessary to obtain approval from the Tokyo metropolitan assembly. As approval from the transport minister is also necessary, it is vital to obtain the understanding of the public.

Even if higher tolls are introduced, drivers could decide to take public streets and backroads to avoid the metropolitan expressway and, as a result, cause traffic congestion there.

In such a situation, some officials of the organizing committee and the metropolitan government say that to ease public criticism, it would be necessary to reduce tolls outside the hours of the competitions.

(This article was written by Daisuke Maeda, Hiroko Saito, Miho Tanaka, Yuki Okado and Shimpei Doi.)