Ever since I wrote my post on Money-Saving Tips for Self-Drive in Hokkaido, I have been getting many questions regarding the Hokkaido Expressway Pass (HEP). In this post, I am going to try to answer all the FAQs on using the HEP.
What is ETC?
ETC is a cashless system in Japan for paying toll fees. It involves two things:
- A card reader inside the car called an ETC unit.
- A card that’s like a credit card called an ETC card.
You need to have BOTH to use the ETC lanes on the expressway. For a more detailed explanation with cartoons and all, visit DrivePlaza website.
The Singapore Analogy:
The ETC system works exactly like our cashcard and in-vehicle unit. All our cars come with in-vehicle units. But we still need to have a cashcard to insert into it before we can drive through our ERP gantries. The ETC unit is basically the IU and the ETC card is basically the cashcard.
“My car rental says ETC is included. Does that mean I can use the ETC lanes?”
This is where it gets a bit confusing for first-timers renting a car in Japan. Many car rental companies will say that they have ETC included in the car rental. But this usually means they have the ETC unit inside the car. But NOT necessarily they are able to provide you an ETC card.
“So why do they say ETC is included? So misleading!”
Japan tourism is largely driven by their own locals. Bulk of the car rental business comes from domestic travelers. Who probably own their own ETC cards. Hence, all they need to know is whether there is an ETC unit in the car where they can insert their own ETC card.
And yes, they do need to state because some of the smaller car rental companies may not even have an ETC unit in their cars. Most of the big companies have them by default though.
“What’s so great about using the ETC lanes?”
1. It is cashless. You just drive straight through without having to fiddle with tickets and money at every toll booth.
2. There are discounts*. For e.g. If you use the ETC lanes on weekends, there is a 30% discount on toll fees.
*Note: There are bunch of different discounts and they change from time to time, so I can’t tell you for sure how much the discount is. You can refer to the following websites for information regarding ETC discount schemes and try to make sense of them:
What is HEP?
Hokkaido Expressway Pass (HEP) is like a concession pass for expressways. It comes in the form of an ETC card.
“What is the difference between HEP and ETC?”
They look and are used exactly the same. But a standard ETC card would charge you based on per-usage, whereas a HEP would charge based on the number of days, regardless of how much / little you use the expressway.
Again, a Singaporean analogy: You know our EZ link card for public transport? For a normal EZ link card, we pay for each ride we take. But if we get a monthly concession, we pay for the month, regardless of how much we ride. But either ways we are using the same EZ link card. Geddit?
“Should I get the HEP or ETC?”
Whether to get a HEP or ETC (or none at all) depends on your itinerary and how much you are going to be using toll ways.
In general, if you are not using the toll roads much, it may not be worth the hassle to try to get an ETC card. Most car rental companies charge for the rental of an ETC card and the fee varies. Some companies require you to put a hefty deposit from which they will deduct your toll fees from and refund you the balance (if I’m not mistaken, Tocoo does this). If the deposit is charged to your credit card and subsequently refunded, you may lose out on exchange rate. So unless the car rental company is offering an ETC card for a nominal one-time fee of like 300yen without deposit, I would just pay cash for the few times I pass through the toll gates.
For heavier usage, whether or not to get the HEP, you need to do some Math. It’s like whether you should get a Hokkaido Rail Pass or buy single trip train tickets, same concept. Except Hyperdia makes it easy for us to calculate and add up the price of single trip train tickets, but we don’t have a Hyperdia-for-toll-fees, if you know what I mean. All we have is this confusing toll fee chart and Tocoo’s not-so-easy-to-use Highway Toll Fee Simulation System.
So I am going to water down it down to the most common routes used by tourists. It is not going to be super accurate because it depends on exactly which exit / entrance you use. But as a rough guide, you can use the fees below to do your Math to see if HEP is worth it or not.
Hokkaido Expressway Toll Fees (Cash)
- Sapporo to New Chitose Airport = 1410 yen
- Sapporo to Hakodate = 6010 Yen
- Sapporo to Lake Toya = 3590 Yen (This toll can be avoided)
- Sapporo to Noboribetsu = 2590 Yen
- Sapporo to Otaru = 810 Yen
- Sapporo to Mikasa (for Furano) = 1270 Yen
- Sapporo to Asahikawa = 3490 Yen
- Sapporo to Tomamu 3320 Yen
- Sapporo to Obihiro = 4360 Yen
- Sapporo to Kushiro = 5490 Yen
From New Chitose Airport (CTS)
- CTS to Hakodate = 5430 yen
- CTS to Lake Toya = 2970 yen
- CTS to Noboribetsu = 1750 yen
- CTS to Otaru = 2220 yen
- CTS to Asahikawa = 4730 yen
- CTS to Shimukappu (for Furano) = 2440 yen
- CTS to Tomamu = 3050 yen
- CTS to Obihiro = 4090 yen
- CTS to Kushiro = 5220 yen
- Hakodate to Niseko = 2670 yen
- Hakodate to Lake Toya = 3330 yen
- Hakodate to Noboribetsu = 4280 yen
From Tomamu / Furano
- Tomamu / Furano to Obihiro = 1340 yen
- Tomamu / Furano to Kushiro = 2470 yen
And here is the price of the HEP as of date of publication:
Image Source: Hokkaido Expressway Pass Website
Other things to consider for HEP
“Which car rental outlets offer HEP?”
You need to refer to this list for the participating outlets.
“Can I pick up / drop off at different outlets?”
No. HEP requires the car to be returned to the same outlet it was picked up from. (Updated) Since writing this post, some car rental companies have started to allow customers to get the HEP even if they are returning the car to a different location. Please check with your car rental company to see if they allow you to do so.
“Can I purchase the HEP only for the days I am using the expressway?”
No. You need to purchase the HEP for your whole rental duration from pick up to drop off. And it goes by calendar date, not number of hours. E.g. if you pick up the car on 1 Jan at 10am and return it on 2 Jan at 9am, it is considered 2 days.
“Do I need to make a reservation in advance for the HEP?”
Yes. You need to specify that you would like the HEP when you book your rental car and this should be done in advance.
Have I answered your question?
For more information on Hokkaido Expressway Pass, please visit > the official website <.
If you still have any questions pertaining to the use of ETC card / HEP, feel free to post them under the comments.
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