Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

E-lectronic T-raffic C-on?

The E.T.C. unit I ordered finally came, but the card hasn't yet. That might actually be a good thing right now.

I'd been tempted to get an E.T.C. (Electronic Toll Collection) device for my BLUE RAV4 for some time. They are just so convenient. Instead of having to stop and provide amusement for a bored toll collector by trying to dig your wallet out of your seat-embedded pants in a very awkward position (and pulling muscles in the process), you just slow down and drive through a gate. The device links in to a wireless system, exchanges your personal data, and the toll charge is either charged to your credit card or taken directly out of your bank account. No fuss, no hassle, no lost time, no germ-infested items changing hands, no pulled muscles. Only the cost of the items made me keep doubting whether it would be worth it.

Enter the government. (Prince By-Tor ap-)(*WHACK*!)(Ow!) Suddenly, out of the BLUE, the federal government announced it was starting a campaign to encourage people to get E.T.C. units. First they implemented a system whereby, while regular tolls remained fixed, E.T.C. tolls changed depending on the time and date, becoming much cheaper during commuting hours. The government also offered to subsidize up to a designated number of E.T.C. units purchased nationwide starting from the beginning of April by offering a 5000 yen (about $50) rebate. Needless to say, despite rumors that the real reason for the campaign was to help introduce a mileage-based tax system, the country quickly became gripped with E.T.C. fever.

I finally gave in and tried to buy an E.T.C. unit toward the end of April, but they were basically nowhere to be found. I went ahead and ordered one though I was warned that there was no way of knowing when it would arrive, meaning it wouldn't be in time for the subsidy. As it turned out, it came about a week later, and I got the rebate. There was no extra charge for the installation, and I was a happy camper until I tried to get the E.T.C. card necessary to make it work. I was told that, because of the rush (and the Snow D-)(*WHACK*)(Heyyy...) the quickest way would be to go to the bank where I got my credit card and have a companion E.T.C. card made. My existing account would eliminate the hassle, and there would be no charge. I was even assured over the phone by my bank that it would only take about a week. Unfortunately, when I actually went to the bank, filled out the forms, and provided the genetic sample (kidding...) I was informed it would probably take about a month. That means that, for the next few weeks at least, every time I start my car or approach a toll gate my E.T.C. unit says, in a slightly nasal feminine voice (in Japanese), something like, "This unit is in an inoperative state! Please insert your card into the upper entry slot!" (Noooo....I'm gonna jam it into the back! Sheesh...)

Now let me tell you what happened to me the first time I went out on the expressway with my new, INOPERATIVE E.T.C. unit. Except for the annoying voice telling me to stick my card in its slot everytime I approached a toll gate, it was business as usual. I drove through the regular gate and paid the regular toll in the regular manner (and amused myself by yelling at the E.T.C. unit to go shove itself up its own slot). However, there was one odd event that most definitely got my attention...

I was in the passing lane trying to go around a clot of slow-moving cars gathered around a bus (aka mobile traffic-jam maker). A speed camera gate was coming up ahead, so I kept my speed at a relatively modest level. Next thing I knew, a sports car was coming up on my six really fast, and it showed no sign of slowing down. I was blocked from leaving the passing lane, so I punched my accelerator, went into passing gear, whipped around the clot, pulled into the center lane, and then quickly braked to get back down below the acceptable margin before hitting the mark on the pavement showing the speed camera's aiming point.

That's when my E.T.C. unit started beeping. "This unit is in an inoperative state! Please insert your card into the upper entry slot!" But there was no toll gate anywhere to be seen. I can only assume that the unit had been activated by the speed camera gate. That would mean that they were trying to fine me electronically for being a click or two over the margin when I hit the X. I have noticed that a lot of drivers on the expressway have an odd tendency to ignore the speed cameras and just barge on through at high speed. Assuming they aren't privileged (i.e. they aren't missing any fingers), that would mean that rumors I've heard that the police don't pay much attention to the speed cameras are true to at least some extent. An on-the-spot, E.T.C.-based fine collection system would be a completely different story, and a very ominous one. There is a possibility that my unit linked up with a toll gate at an exit I passed, and I just didn't notice it, and I hope that's all it was. After all, a recent case in Italy, where red-light cameras and the signals they were attached to were intentionally tampered with in order to garner extra fine revenue, shows how easily automated law-enforcement systems can be abused. Moreover, since my driving habits are actually more in accordance with the norm rather than the exception, it would mean that a lot of these recent E.T.C. buyers could be falling victim without knowing it. At the very least, there has been no public indication that such a system is being implemented. I hope that means I'm mistaken.

In other news, I've finished another tune. It's called "From the Hat". It's another bit of fun, and kind of chaotic, with lots of genré-hopping, but please give it a listen. There are a lot of complicated details I won't go into here, but you can see them on my Minstrel's Muse site.

By the way, with this tune I have enough tracks available to make a finished CD, so it's in the works. The title is Blue Taxi. I'll leave all the tracks on my Minstrel's Muse site for now, but once the CDs are ready I'll delete that post and replace it with a regular promo like the others. That means you can listen to all the tunes in mp3 format...though I'll give fair warning that the original wav versions, and therefore the CDs, have considerably better sound quality (which probably serves me right for using a freeware file converter, but oh well).

UPDATE - I think I've found a reasonable (and reassuring) explanation for the ETC beeping at the speed camera gate.  It turns out that there are "ETC check" sensors set up at certain speed camera gates, usually at the border between fare zones.  One of my coworkers says his ETC unit always beeps at the same locations no matter how fast (or not) he's going.  The reason for these sensors isn't entirely clear, but apparently they verify whether or not your car has a functioning ETC unit on it or not.  The good thing is that it's apparently not an electronic fine-collection system.  The bad thing is that it, together with those weird "tracking cameras" set up at intervals in addition to the speed cameras, seems like another Orwellian eye on our private lives.

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  • hmmm, bery, bery interestink!

    Of course, I always associate tolls w/"east coast foolishness"...I mean they DID get rid of the toll on the Astoria Bridge, once it was paid for (several years early in fact).

    We don't need no stinkin' tolls! Revolucion! something

    By Blogger ladybug, at 5:41 AM  

  • Dear Mr. Moody,

    Recently your vehicle was tracked doing five hundred kilometers per hour through a busy intersection. Fortunately, your ETC unit alerted us to your careless and wreckless behavior. We are therefore fining you the modest amount of 6 million yen.

    The traffic warden

    By Anonymous Some computer, at 6:28 AM  

  • That is kinda creepy. I hope you are right about the false alarm. Still, something tried to charge you out there. As I go along in life, it seems people find fewer positive uses for technologies and they find more crappy uses.

    word verification: fultruc - twice as much as a haftruc

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 10:08 AM  

  • ETC? We don' need no stinking ETC!

    "So we crashed the gate doin' ninety-eight
    I sez, let them truckers roll, 10-4"
    -CW McCall "Convoy" 1975>K's new car is ETC card ready, but she doesn't have a card yet (it's been years since we drove on an expressway). So every time she starts it, that annoying voice asks her to insert an ETC card (and I think, "you want Vaseline with that?").

    WV- valleter: a male servant who inserts ETC cards

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 5:17 PM  

  • Ladybug-
    I know what you mean. Having grown up in Oregon, the whole idea of highway tolls was a foreign concept to me, as was the fact that you have to pay about $30 one way to get from here to Tokyo (a distance of around 90 km). Of course, with a functioning E.T.C. unit it now costs less, especially if you hit it at the right times, but...

    Some Computer-
    Byte this.

    Actually, the E.T.C. unit beeps and blabs like that if I approach a toll gate, but I don't actually get billed till I pass through it. That's why I wonder if in fact I passed close enough to an exit toll gate to get warned. Still, the fact that it did that just as I was passing under a speed camera arch with some uncertainty as to whether I was within the accepted limit or slightly over really makes me wonder.

    "Convoy" - I haven't heard that in a while! Trivia fact: It was actually written by Chip Davis, the brains behind Mannheim Steamroller, and it even featured many of the same musicians used in the Fresh Aire series of albums.

    It doesn't surprise me that your new hybrid car comes ready equipped with ETC, especially since the government is trying so hard to get people to use it. You also understand how annoying it can be cardless...

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 8:53 PM  

  • Toll -- bad four-letter word. The people here are asking the govt to take over tolls from the concessionaires so that toll collection can be stopped. A very long shot.

    By Blogger HappySurfer, at 11:01 PM  

  • If we don't get no tolls,
    We ain't get no rolls!

    Little John, Robin Hood Men in Tights

    By Anonymous Dave, at 1:37 PM  

  • E.T.C.

    Extra-Terrestrial Car
    Et Cetera
    Ellijay Telephone CompanyEvery Tricky Cat
    Elder Troll Clan
    English Tourism Council
    Erosion, Technology and Concentration
    European Travel Commission
    Estimated Total Cost
    Ekky-ekky-ekky pTangzoot Choing (ni?)
    Erstwhile Teething Cheeta
    Environmentally Titillated Clown
    English Trumpet Club
    Ending Tacky Comment

    By Blogger DewKid, at 9:36 AM  

  • Especially Thoughtful Closing

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 10:40 AM  

  • Steamroller, eh? - 'don't remember one of those in the convoy. Interesting.

    WF - dicentio: an Italian car designed solely for down hill racing.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 10:26 PM  

  • Panda-B-

    Are you familiar at all with Mannheim Steamroller and the Fresh Aire series? Of course, their Christmas albums have been their most famous (actually, they're the most commercially successful Christmas albums in history), but I don't think they're as good as the Fresh Aire albums.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 7:16 PM  

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