Two expressway operators began joint tests Monday on an electronic toll-collection system that allows vehicles to pass through tollgates without stopping.

Japan Highway Public Corp. and Metropolitan Expressway Public Corp. started using the electronic toll collection system at 54 tollgates, mostly in Chiba Prefecture, on a trial basis.

Some 11,000 monitor drivers will test the system through the summer, the government-funded corporations said.

Under the Electronic Toll Collection system, users must have a radio transmitter installed in their cars. As the cars pass through the toll gate, the device sends signals to ETC sensors, and the amount owed is automatically deducted from the user’s bank or credit card account.

The new system is designed to curb traffic congestion, because each ETC tollgate is expected to be able to collect tolls from about 800 vehicles per hour, with cars moving at 40 kph. This is up from the 220 to 230 under the current manual system.

The radio transmitter will cost about 30,000 yen, Construction Ministry officials said.

Prior to the start of the tests, 30 cars and eight buses carrying officials from the two corporations and companies that developed equipment for the system passed through a tollgate on the Tokyo Bay Aqualine in Kisarazu, Chiba Prefecture, in a ceremony to launch the program.

The Construction Ministry said it hopes to formally introduce the system this fall at the 54 sites where the test is being carried out. The ETC system will then be installed at 580 more tollgates on long-distance expressways in other parts of the country, including the Tomei and Meishin expressways, by March 2001. Success of the ETC system is being closely observed by Tokyo Metropolitan Government officials, who are studying a proposal to hike tolls on roads within central Tokyo to encourage more use of mass transit.

Under the proposal, ETC tollbooth gates will be placed in different areas of the city to charge cars that enter characteristically congested areas, such as within the JR Yamanote Line or areas bound by the Tama and Arakawa Rivers.

Officials plan to simulate the effects of such a system in different areas within the city on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., with introduction slated for as early as fiscal 2003.