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The Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry will further reduce tolls on three bridges linking Honshu and Shikoku in a bid to get people to use the heavily indebted expressways, transport minister Chikage Ogi said Friday.

A provisional discount of about 28 percent off the basic rates will be introduced later this year, adding roughly 8 percentage points to a discount system already in place, he said.

The Diet is expected to pass legislation calling for special measures in fiscal 2003 to slash the debt burden of the Honshu-Shikoku Bridge Authority, which operates the three bridges at a loss.

The legislation was endorsed by the Cabinet earlier this month and is now awaiting Diet deliberation.

The new tolls will be in place for one year, after which the ministry will judge their effectiveness, Ogi said.

The tolls are already around 20 percent off the basic rate as part of a tentative five-year discount promotion that was scheduled to end March 31. However, this system will remain in place until the start of the new program, which is expected to begin one month after the Diet passes the related legislation.

Under the new scheme, the currently discounted tolls would be cut by a further 10 percent, creating a total saving of around 28 percent off the basic rates for drivers not equipped with onboard electronic toll collection devices.

For example, the toll on the Seto Ohashi Bridge on the Seto central route linking Okayama and Kagawa prefectures would be cut to 4,100 yen from the basic rate of 5,700 yen. The rate is 4,600 yen under the current discount promotion.

For drivers using the ETC system, the currently discounted tolls will be cut by 15 percent, saving them a total of 32 percent off the basic rates.

The greater discount for ETC-equipped vehicles is intended to boost the appeal of the unpopular system.

As of November, a daily average of 13,900 vehicles used the Seto central route, 16,800 drove the Kobe-Naruto route and 3,600 used the western Seto route.

The ministry expects that by adding 8 percentage points to its current discount scheme, it will increase traffic on the loss-making routes by 5 percent, while losing 5 percent in revenues.

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