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Niigata/Nagano: Should Japan make all of its highways free or is the present toll system fair?

by Bryan Baier

Rikiya Sakurai
Student, 20s (Japanese)
If tolls were eliminated, gasoline and car taxes would have to go up to make up the difference. At the moment the economy is bad and not everyone can afford to pay the extra taxes. Once it gets better, though, raising taxes on cars and gasoline to eliminate the freeway tolls would be a good idea.

Yap Khai Ming
Student, 20s (Malaysian)
Of course it would be good to eliminate the tolls, but how would they pay for the highways? Vehicle inspections (shaken), gasoline and car taxes are already expensive. Another tax to pay for the highway would be a burden, especially considering that most Japanese don’t often use the highway.

Yuka Sato
Student, 20s (Japanese)
It might be nice if the expressway could be paid for by a tax, but as it is with the present system, the roads are well maintained and it is easy to go where you want to go. If the tolls were suddenly eliminated, more people would use the expressway and travel could become difficult.

Yoichi Shimozono
Owner of Little Alaskan & Small Cabin burger stand, Hakuba, 30s (Japanese)
I think it would be good if the highways were free. It would increase the number of travelers and the prices of goods would come down because the trucking companies wouldn’t have the extra cost of the highway tolls.

Susan
Nokia office worker, China, 40s (British)
Because we’ve been to other countries with toll roads, we take it as a given that one has to pay a toll for using the expressway. I like actions that take cars off of the road. That said, I would like to know who is getting the money I pay in tolls.

Yuki Matsuno
Student, 20s (Japanese)
I think it would be good if the highway tolls were reduced but not eliminated. Because not everyone uses the expressways, removing the tolls completely would not be cost-effective, in my opinion.

Bryan Baier conducted interviews in Niigata and Hakuba, Nagano Prefecture.

Interested in gathering views in your neighborhood? E-mail community@japantimes.co.jp

  • Gaijin de la Mancha

    Regarding the highway toll system: as a Gaijin of respectable age and experience, I strongly recommend all tolls be abolished. There is nothing “fair” in any toll, tax, or fee that is imposed by any government, for governments in all forms produce nothing except “control.” The people of Japan have paid for and built their roads, not the government. Abolishing tolls would result, without question, in an explosion of commerce and industry throughout Japan, and do more to help the “average” Nihonjin than any economically dysfunctional stimulus plan could ever hope to achieve. Lastly, the “word from the street” is not the repository of wisdom when it comes to national policy, so perhaps the opinion column should be renamed “word from the wise?” Wisdom is a combination of experience and prudence, and that is only learned with time. No offense to the fine 20-year olds in your column, but if you want a wise perspective, ask your elders.

    • Thomas N

      I struggle to see how you could convince the government to continue maintenance work on a highway system that was purely loss leading. Where are they getting this magic money from?

      In my opinion, government owned enterprise serves an important purpose – competition. Reference Australia, where banks have made record profits for years while failing to pass on central bank interest rate cuts to average people. Rich executive get richer, poor get poorer. The reason those banks can is because there is no mediating force to make them do so – there’s no regulation or competition. A government owned corporation can sometimes provide competition by forcing the will of the people as opposed to merely pandering to the pockets of the rich.

      In this case, imagine a privately owned expressway system – why wouldn’t they just put tolls up? Government = bad, but Private = Worse. Highways without regulation or tolls is what you want? Why bother doing maintenance at all because hey, who’s gonna pay for it? For that matter, why bother extending or improving the highway systems for the future? There’s no reason to because there’s it’s just a drain of resources.

      Government ‘control’ is no different to private enterprise ‘control’ – except private enterprise has no reason to answer to the people through voting.

      You Americans love to talk of no government interference or control and seem to enjoy the thought of anarchy where the rich or ‘strong’ get richer, the poor or ‘weak’ get ‘weaker’ citing dictatorships as justification but forgetting the opposite is also true – without a ‘controlling’ government, anarchy reigns. Every time a tipping point ratio of rich:poor has been reached in the past, the poor vastly outnumber the rich and rise up against the injustices of being poor. In the past it’s often been corrupt, dictatorships doing this – but behind every bad government is a senator doing the will of a big business, wanting a well paid private sector job.

  • Ben

    i agree with the comment below that tolls are unfair, but in this case i think unfair tolls have a larger positive benefit, which is to give people cause to reconsider their need to travel. particularly for japan which suffers greatly from having to import huge quantities of oil, the fewer people and goods that are travelling long distances by road the better.

    • Gaijin de la Mancha

      Ben, Thank you. However, I recommend you meditate upon the ideologically flawed foundations of your premise. Does Japan truly “suffer” from imports? Really? What is oil, but a commodity like any other? In addition, how can limiting the travel of people and goods possibly benefit Japanese? After all, the entire Japanese economic “miracle” is based upon the global movement of people, goods, and services! Conversely, and perversely, how could the strangling of domestic mobility prove beneficial? Who makes the determination as to “how much” mobility is enough, and from what basis do they draw their stunningly egotistic authority? These are not decisions for ANY government, nor self-described “elite” group. They simply do not have the right, nor demonstrated capacity, to impose such arbitrary limitations upon any individual, or indeed NATION of individuals. Every time such policies are imposed, anywhere, EVER, the long-term consequences prove to be universally destructive. The pursuit of “fairness” and “equality” always leads to “servitude.”

      • Ben

        hiya michael thanks for the reply and opportunity to continue the conversation. i agree that all things considered, japan has a net benefit from imports, but currently the necessity of that particular import, is making the country suffer. japan’s balance of trade is already suffering due to foreign customers having less money to spend on its goods, yet the same amount of oil is required to keep road transport rolling. i completely agree that transport is necessary, and particularly japan, but road transport is many times more inefficient that ship and rail transport, while are very well developed in japan. i don’t suggest strangling domestic mobility, merely not removing one of the many incentives to utilise rail. there are many other alternative but analogous policies i would support, such as removing tolls for zero-emission vehicles, increasing tolls to fund development in carbon-fibre bodied cars which would keep japan competitive and reduce dependence on oil imports, investing in rail to make it cheaper (and hence more attractive than jumping on even a toll-free highway), or using tolls to finance expansion of the rail network.
        on the contrary these are exactly the decisions we need government to make, to get over the hump that would otherwise prevent new and improved technologies (which are by their nature more expensive at the beginning than existing ones) from coming in and improving the lives of all citizens.

  • George

    Someone has to pay for the roads. It is ridiculous to think otherwise. I hold the radical opinion, however, that the people who use the roads should pay for them. If I don’t drive, why should I have to pay for the roads through my taxes? (Afterall, I pay for mass transit, or my bicycle.) Therefore, in a situation that I think ideal, everyone’s taxes would go down, and tolls would go up, thus drivers would pay a fair price for what they use, and I would not have to pay for them to drive.

  • Gaijin de la Mancha

    Hmm… I see. Incentives, “green” projects, efficiency… yes… all government ideas for the “common good.” Unfortunately, the corruptively-inflated and often “expropriated” costs when governments develop these and other “many times more efficient” forms of transportation (rails, etc…) are never actually brought into the discussion or calculation. The problem is, Ben, that when ANY government starts down the road of “incentives,” it can never stop meddling, and frankly, stealing. In the end, the costs of these vapid experiments and socially “beneficial” programs ALWAYS break the government and bankrupts the society. Pick any point in history and the result will always be the same. Rome: Bread and circuses. Mussolini: widespread environmental reclamation and “The State is EVERYTHING!” Hitler: “Work Shall Set You Free,” etc. FDR: Social Security. China under Mao. Cambodia under Pol Pot. North Korea. The collapse of Communism basically EVERYWHERE. India’s failed 40-year experiment with Russian-style central planning. The bankruptcy of the EU. LBJ: the War on Poverty. The sluggish Japanese economy after six… or is it eight “stimulus plans?” Obama: corruption x 10… don’t get me started. When do actual historical and practical FACTS come into these discussions, or is everyone happy with being a bare-bones, bike-peddling, ideological drone? If you want efficiency, don’t look to government… it’ll NEVER happen. It can ONLY happen when people are free to make their own decisions and investments… not taxed slowly into oblivion through both active and passively coercive means. // I won’t follow up on George’s comments. Sorry George: way too many holes in your tempting argument… which ultimately and correctly calls into question the entire fraudulent basis of government redistributionist policies. Too big a topic for here. NEXT!

    • Ben

      you have a good point, but it’s not that green incentives get corrupted it’s that all incentives do. in rome it wasn’t the bread and circuses themselves so much as the rich wanting to get into public office by buying their popularity. japan too i don’t think there’s anyone who honestly thinks these stimulus plans are anything but an excuse to hand public funds over to friends in the construction industry. corruption happens but it’s usually an individual or a group hijacking a completely legitimate plan to further their own self-interest. american government spending again is an example, that $14tn debt isn’t money lost it’s all gone to private corporations. we had in australia a few years back a brilliant idea to reduce energy demand by funding upgrades to insulation in homes. it was working well until a couple of dodgy operators decided to cut costs by not doing the job properly and some fires resulted. strangely many people decided that was the government’s fault and that it was a bad plan, rather than blaming those who selfishly tried to take advantage of it.
      government plans do tend to get hijacked yes, but that doesn’t mean that government or the plans themselves are bad, in much the same way as a literal hijacking says nothing about the quality of the airline or plane involved.