Japan has announced a pilot programme to convert 1,626km of the country’s expressways into toll-free roads by April next year.

The move will allow all automobiles to travel toll-free on the selected expressways whether they have an ETC device fitted or not, as opposed to the current special discount system, which only applies to ETC-equipped vehicles.

The Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism plans to begin work on the $1bn programme in June this year.

The programme would study the impact of toll removal on traffic jams, the environment and public transportation, according to ministry officials.

These roads form 18% of the country’s total toll roads covering 37 routes, mostly in rural areas, including the entire Okinawa Expressway as well as sections of the West Kyushu Expressway in Sasebo and Aomori and Hachinohe expressways near Misawa.