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When it comes to trips, it is best enjoyed in a car to savor the sights. And the best part of traveling by car in Japan is how convenient everything is with an ETC card! It takes care of matters like toll payments, records, and even helps to avoid traffic.
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If you’re visiting Japan and decided to rent a car for a unique travel experience, then, you are up for a ride as Japan’s transportation and communication system makes it easier for you to travel between prefectures while paying the cheapest tolls and arriving at your target location at the fastest estimated time. All of these are done by one small card called the Electronic Toll Collection card or ETC.
The Electronic Toll Collection Card is a multi-purpose card that uses smart communication technology to pay your toll fees and, with the new version, provide you comprehensive traffic information. It aims to give a better and convenient driving experience by integrating both functions in one service called ETC 2.0.
The convenience of ETC lies in the efficiency of its service execution. Since the ETC card works like a credit card, all of your transactions happen in the background. You only need to place the card in a mounted card reader compatible with the ETC card in your car to pay the toll fee and slow down when you reach toll gates to give time for the Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) spots to connect wirelessly to your ETC card. As you pass by these ITS spots, they procure data of your travel history from the card and automatically calculate the equivalent toll fee. After this, the bill is directly sent to the account enrolled and will be charged from there.
Besides convenient payment of toll fees, another key feature of ETC - or the new integrated ETC 2.0 - is a real-time map of the traffic that covers a range of 1,000 km. This means that even if you're still a thousand kilometers away from a certain location, you will already be able to tell the traffic situation in that area through your car's navigation system.
In addition to this service, the card also has a congestion avoidance feature that directs you to routes with the least traffic and a safe driving and disaster support feature, which informs you about the weather forecast, dangerous curves in the road, falling objects, etc. With all these being digital, nothing gets in the way of your drive and gives you one less thing to worry about when traveling in Japan.
There are various types of ETC cards. You can get an ETC card only, or get an ETC card joined with a credit card. Either way, if you are a car-owner in Japan and have a Japanese credit card to avail yourself of this service, the toll bills will be automatically charged and sent to you. You will also need to get an in-vehicle device that you must install and register. If you do not have a credit card, you can apply and enroll your bank account to charge your toll fees automatically. For English language services related to using and getting an ETC card, JapanETCcard might be a good place to start.
On the other hand, if you're a tourist and only visiting for a short time, you don't have to worry about missing out on this service as many car rental agencies in Japan also offer ETC card rentals. ETC cards are charged per day - in the case of Nippon Rent-A-Car, for only about 300 yen limited to a maximum of 7 days. ETC rentals are just as convenient as owning ones on a short time basis because the car rental agency will just send you the total amount of your toll fees in your travel duration, and you can pay them after you have returned the car to the company. Of course, this comes with a grain of caution as the card's loss or damage will amount to additional fees being placed in your account.
※ Nippon Rent-A-Car, "Useful Services"
While you're at it, check out expressway passes along with renting ETC cards and present your passport. It will give you the privilege of unlimited-use of expressways in your supposed destination at a fixed rate - often exclusive rates to international visitors. Take note, however, that these passes are region-limited, which means that it can only be used in specific locations covered and stipulated in the pass, so you need to plan where you are going first to pay for the appropriate passes. Below is a list of expressway passes available in Japan which also uses ETC:
1. Japan Expressway Pass (JEP)
2. Hokkaido Expressway Pass (HEP)
3. Tohoku Expressway Pass (TEP)
4. Central Nippon Expressway Pass (CEP)
5. Aichi Toll Road Pass (AIP)
6. Nagoya Expressway Pass (NEP)
7. San’in-Setouchi-Shikoku Expressway Pass (SEP)
8. Kyushu Expressway Pass (KEP)
Once you have settled these, you are now set up for your drive and free to use the expressways to visit the best cultural attractions in Japan.
For the equipment needed to acquire the traffic information feature, you need to have your car navigation system or phone connected to the ETC compatible mounted-device in your car. You will be able to get information through graphic display and voice-guided navigation from the ETC system. This is much easier for rental cars where these are already pre-setup, but in the case that you need to replace your navigation system with something that is ETC compatible, be sure to ask help from someone with the expertise.
There are different kinds of ETC cards which offer additional functions such as shopping. The benefits vary between companies and depend on where you acquired your ETC card from.
ETC cards can still be used when you opt to rent a motorcycle instead of cars but certain conditions are needed to be met and the information required is different from ones for four-wheeled vehicles. Moreover, a different mounted-device is needed for motorcycles.
From Japan, ETC is being slowly adopted by other countries as well due to the efficiency provided by its service. Through unifying different functions, it provides drivers convenience when traveling, may they be to get to work or to go sight-seeing. It also curbs traffic and results in indirect benefits that work in favor of the environment and people such as lowering gas emissions, decreased fuel consumption, and, most of all, increases productivity. With ETC, you can enjoy all of these on top of creating memorable experiences of your road trips in Japan.
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