One of the more optimistic goals of Tokyo Gov Yuriko Koike is "manin densha zero" -- to eliminate crowding on the trains. In November, Nikkei Business (Dec 12) assigned three reporters to board rush-hour commuter trains and present their views on the sources of the problem.
The three were in agreement that it is indeed no exaggeration to describe the morning ordeal undergone by commuters by transposing the word "tsukin" (commuting to work) to another "tsukin," with characters meaning "painful diligence."
Crowded conditions, according to an agreed-upon formula worked out many years ago by the railways and former Ministry of Transport, is evaluated by the so-called "konzatsu-ritsu," a benchmark by which the capacity of a passenger car exceeds 100%.
According to Transport Ministry statistics, conditions have improved, somewhat. In 1975, the average capacity in 31 rail sectors in the greater Tokyo area was determined to be 221%. In 2015, that figure had declined to 164%. Thus despite alleviation in crowded conditions compared with 30 or 40 years ago, unfortunately, commuters' morning "tsukin" has improved little over the past decade and a half.
One of the main reasons for this is that while Japan's overall population has been declining, overconcentration in the capital region has even worsened. Three factors in particular are believed responsible for contributing to overcrowding.
The first is that improvements in rail services tend to lead to developments that negate their convenience. One example is when the Yokosuka Line expresses began servicing a new station, Musashi Kosugi in Kawasaki City. "Tower Manshon" apartments and new shopping centers promptly sprang up in the area, and the Yokosuka Line's rush hour capacity actually rose in 2015, to 193%. A similar situation housing development situation could be found along the Denen Toshi Line in west Tokyo, whose rush-hour capacity is 188%.
A second factor is the increase in the number of rail companies sharing the same line ("sogo nori-ire"). The Tozai Line, which is run by Tokyo Metro, JR Sobu and Toyo Rapid Railway lines between Chiba and Mitaka City in west Tokyo, makes it easier for commuters to reach their destination without changing trains, but funnels more passengers into the fray, resulting in a capacity of 199%. (Note: The aforementioned capacity figures are based on data from the railway companies; independent checks suggest the actual figures are higher, with the biggest discrepancies being the Tobu Isesaki Line and Keio Inokashira Line.)
The third factor is that the so-called peak commuting time has actually expanded. Formerly many companies expected staff to be at work between 8:30 and 9:00 a.m. The introduction of flextime, however, has not had much of an impact on alleviating crowded conditions. As Yuji Morimoto, a managing director at JR East Japan, tells the magazine, "The numbers of passengers riding just before and after the peak times have been increasing."
For the time being, a few experimental ideas have been adopted to see if the situation can't be helped along. The Tokyu Denen Toshi Line, which runs parallel to National Highway 246, has begun a campaign that accepts commuter rail passes to utilize the same company's buses, some 50 to 60 of which run per hour during the weekday rush period between Sangenjaya station in Setagaya Ward and JR Shibuya station.
Nikkei Business also provided a sidebar of survey data from the Fuman Kaitori Center -- a website that encourages people to log on with their complaints and pet peeves (http://fumankaitori.com).
The six worst irritants, as stated by respondents, were, in descending order, passengers emitting unpleasant odors; people who force their way aboard too vigorously; frequent delays; no women-only cars (or not enough); direct skin contact with other passengers; and overheated cars.
The respondents were also invited to convey their expectations to the railway companies. The most popular requests were: to issue warnings to bad-mannered or inconsiderate passengers; to increase the number of train runs; to place maximum limits on train passengers; to increase stand-up areas in the cars, even if it means fewer seats; and to turn down the heat.
Governor Koike, meanwhile, has brought in an expert consultant and appears serious about finding ways to alleviate Tokyo's notorious crowding. If she manages to succeed, the voters will no doubt return her to office by a landslide.© Japan Today