In this July 30 photo, a station attendant watches as a commuter struggles to squeeze himself into an overcrowded train during morning rush hour on the Ginza subway line at Akasaka Mitsuke Station in Tokyo. Photo: AP/Jae C Hong
national

Can Tokyo's efficient rail system handle Olympic strain?

56 Comments
By ALEX BARREIRA

First, Tokyo Olympic fans will have to find scarce tickets and pay the price. Then there's the quandary of landing a hotel room with rates that are being inflated due to unprecedented demand. And the summer heat and humidity will be off-putting for some.

Then there's one more hurdle: getting around, or even finding a tiny space to stand on Tokyo's famously efficient but over-stressed rail system.

Japanese professor Azuma Taguchi at Chuo University has researched Tokyo's system for years and says it's already running at double its capacity and the Olympic crunch could push it to the breaking point.

"When peak capacity is twice or three times above normal, it's possible some people could be killed," Taguchi told The Associated Press.

His computer simulation predicts that the biggest wave of Olympic spectators will collide with work commuters at popular transfer stations during the morning rush hour, while small stations closest to venues will be overwhelmed.

Add to the mix, newcomers carrying luggage aboard subway cars and struggling to maneuver off the train and through crowded stations.

Tokyo transport officials characterize train cars at 200% capacity as giving passengers just enough space to read a magazine. This probably represents a normal commuting weekday in Tokyo.

At 250%, they "cannot even move a hand."

Taguchi's study predicts 15 stations will experience greater than 200% capacity, with several reaching nearly 400% at their peak.

Since Tokyo last hosted the Summer Olympics in 1964, railways have designated special oshiya, or "pushers," to pack commuters into rush hour cars— often wearing white gloves. Locals are accustomed to the treatment, but visitors may not be.

Tokyo's Olympic organizing committee question Taguchi's dire predictions. They acknowledge the railways will be packed with 800,000 added passengers daily. They also anticipate that Tokyo expressway congestion will double.

Hoping to head off the crowding, the committee wants to launch a smartphone app, boost multilingual signage, and use boats and robot-assisted technology to help fans and commuters get around. As with all Olympics, authorities are testing special highway lanes and altering the city's transit flow.

Concerns about transportation are nothing new at the Olympics, and crowds are often overestimated and subsequently managed, as was the case in London in 2012. Potential tourists sometimes stay away, knowing it's a bad time to visit with prices soaring. That happened in 2008 in Beijing and again three years ago in Rio de Janeiro.

"Living in Tokyo we experience this 100%, 150%, 180% crowding every day. We know how to navigate the stations at these times," said Katsuhisa Saito, the head of transport strategy for Tokyo's organizers. "The main concern is when foreigners attend these events and use the stations. They might not know how to deal with this."

Organizers hope to bring the level of congestion in subway cars down to between 150-180%, a fairly pleasant day for Tokyo commuters. Also, perhaps, a lofty goal.

Taguchi and organizers agree on one thing: keeping Japanese workers at home during the Olympics could go a long way toward solving the problems.

Organizers are asking companies in Tokyo to encourage their employees to work from home during the Olympics, which open on July 24, 2020, and close on Aug. 9. They say more than 2,000 companies have agreed to participate.

Tokyo University professor Katsuhiro Nishinari is working with the organizing committee, an expert in what he calls "jam-ology" — the study of crowd behavior.

"We're used to having one game per day at the stadium, but at the Olympics we have a tight schedule and we have 3-4 games in one day," he said. "We have to exchange the audience two or three times. That's where we don't have experience."

Another major challenge will be convincing a famously industrious workforce to avoid the commute — or the office altogether — for two weeks next summer.

"We're explaining to all the companies and the media, asking people not to work during those two weeks," Nishinari said. "Just enjoy the Olympics."

© Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.


56 Comments
Login to comment

 Locals are accustomed to the treatment, but visitors may not be.

"May not be?" I will not be surprised one bit if some of those "pushers" get shoved right back!

In a country that is supposed to put a high value on manners, this in one thing, of many, that goes against that very idea!

22 ( +22 / -0 )

Locals are accustomed to....

insane levels of crowding (in transport systems and living space), but nothing is ever done to make life a touch more civilized for the millions of people who live in Tōkyō. shame. really!

16 ( +16 / -0 )

First government need to operate more trains for the people travelling in rush hour during normal days, then let's think about how to solve rush hour traffic during Olympics..

5 ( +6 / -1 )

No.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

From that photo, the lady in question is hanging on for dear life

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Yes. Yes it can.

-4 ( +3 / -7 )

re: "Living in Tokyo we experience this 100%, 150%, 180% crowding every day. We know how to navigate the stations at these times,

It would help to print the names of the stations that go through this everyday.

Isn't there a capacity limit for each rail car? If not here should be instead of packed in like a can of sardines.
3 ( +4 / -1 )

Chaos that is what it will be I cant see some Oyajis losing their stuff....

8 ( +8 / -0 )

The guy should have taken the initiative and stepped off, life fáilte welcomes a sixty second hero

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Locals are accustomed to....

They are educated from childhood to exercise gaman and bear the unbearable.

14 ( +14 / -0 )

Trying to cram even more people into the same space will lead to conflict-the negative publicity wont make happy reading...

11 ( +11 / -0 )

Japanese professor Azuma Taguchi at Chuo University has researched Tokyo's system for years and says it's already running at double its capacity

The above statement is only true for four hours a day (2 in the morning and two in the evening), 5 days a week. I’ve heard many initiatives to combat this problem like, staggered working hours and Premium Friday, which have all failed miserably. The stresses of being in the morning crush are immense and it should be no surprise so many people are flipping out. The only thing that will help the Olympic crush is, it will be held during the school vacation so there will be fewer students joining the crush. This problem should be addressed for the society in general, not just for the Olympics.

12 ( +12 / -0 )

Can Tokyo's efficient rail system handle Olympic strain?

No. Duh.

8 ( +9 / -1 )

I love the Olymipcs, even a year out its putting the spotlight onto glaringly obvious problems that usually are a shoulder shrug from locals. But having to have people push you into an already confined space should have in itself told those that be that things arnt working.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

For some people though from overseas, it will be apart of the Tokyo experience that they wanted. Tourists don't go to Shibuya to drink at Starbucks, they want to see the infamous crosswalk with crowds of people. Being a part of the crowd is Tokyo.culture. Only some though, others may be throwing elbows and hurl profanities no one understands.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Japanese people and those who live here bear the train crowding, 

but at Summer Olympics with foreign guests, it will be ugly. 

They have put new bars between 2 seats (what used to be between 4) 

to guarantee the "right" amount of people squeeze in seats.

These bars hurt as they press on hips, legs. 

I give up a seat often, as the other person already sitting is too large for me to fit

without a "cutting" bar...

Before the bar, it was easier to find a seat.

They "welcome" tourists here, but then build new trains less accommodating,

for small Japanese people only.

Foreigners having to stand in jam-packed trains might boost taxi service.

In any event, I will leave during the Olympics!

10 ( +11 / -1 )

This misery has been part of my life for the past 10 years on the Toyoko Line. I have seen people pass out from being crushed, another guy was crushed and vomited on himself on the way to work, not to mention getting repeated colds through the winter due to ungodly crowding. Well I certainly have had enough. I suggest that they make special national holidays during the Olympics and give some kind of alert system before people enter a dangerously crowded station. At Nakameguro for example the platform is already so dangerously crowded that people habitually walk near the edge of the tracks.

12 ( +12 / -0 )

Would dedicating a special car help? Or, special train, which fans have to reach to on certain time, on the dot.

Fans too have to be vigilant and a little smart. If they are staying few blocks away, probably walk a little to the venue. Or goes there super early especially if their country is competing first in the list.

And yeah, I agree that they should gives lists of stations that could be overflowing with people, fans or locals going to work or schools. Should they decided on dedicating a special train, the train should not stop at these small stations, but only stops at big ones.

Fans would have to walk a little further, but hey, that is the little price they need to pay to support their team and country.

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

Tokyo will handle it just fine. London, with its decrepit subway system, even more congested roads (with no inner city expressway) was just fine and it was by far the best Olympics along with Sydney of the 2000’s. Yes, it will be tougher to get around at certain times it is only for 2 weeks and much less than that at most venues.

This Olympics has been beset with far fewer problems that both Rio and Athens faced thus far. Go, if you must but if you will be here just enjoy it.

-5 ( +4 / -9 )

Unfortunately Japan missed the opportunity to expand it. To handle the mess is one thing, to make people happy is another.

7 ( +10 / -3 )

Yes. Yes it can.

Har! Good one, Black Sabbath!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Maybe if they moved some of the jobs out of Tokyo, people wouldn't have to be packed in trains like sardines.

Moving out comp. headquarters, ministries, using teleworking, flex-time schedules and staggered shifts aren't being utilized nearly enough.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

So everyone agreed Tokoyo train system is on the cusp of failure. Adding tourists is just going to break it. As the last governor of Tokyo made a pledge, promise that it's OK, and then retire, wandering the streets with no recollection of what he did. Now that's Japan at it's finest. You want a marathon...dozo. Abe San might join, after being squashed into a train carriage for hours. But as he himself said Fukashima is under control and Tokyo is ready for the Olympics in 2090.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

It can barely handle daily commuter strain...

13 ( +13 / -0 )

Double zettai NO!

9 ( +9 / -0 )

The short answer is "No, it can't".

It's also the long answer.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

Tokyo will handle it just fine. London, with its decrepit subway system, even more congested roads (with no inner city expressway) was just fine and it was by far the best Olympics along with Sydney of the 2000’s. Yes, it will be tougher to get around at certain times it is only for 2 weeks and much less than that at most venues.

Decrepit? Ha, ha. London is continually expanding the Tube/Rail network to ease overcrowding. It's old and underfunded but not decrepit. Also, the Tube is very crowded but nothing like Tokyo standards.

As for London 2012, it worked because most people working in London took annual leave during the Games or worked from home. It also helped that many of the venues were close to each other. Also, there was a drop in tourist numbers during the Games, as those who weren't attending thought it prudent to take their London holiday at a different time. Tourists did not use the roads to attend events, many athletes and officials also eschewed the road transport provided and used the Tube as it was easier and more fun. The congestion charge, plus the reduced number of commuters and priority given to taxis mean the roads weren't as busy as usual.

I was in London during the Games, living one Tube stop from the Olympic Park.

11 ( +13 / -2 )

YubaruToday 06:57 am JST

 Locals are accustomed to the treatment, but visitors may not be.

"May not be?" I will not be surprised one bit if some of those "pushers" get shoved right back!

If you intend to shove back, be sure to wear white gloves in order to get into the right Cosplay frame of mind.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

@Luddite: Yes - its seriously decrepit. Underfunded, Years behind in track maintenance, Years behind in siganaling technology, Years behind in timetable management. No Air Conditioning (which in the warm summer now happening as part of the earths natural cycle) is becoming a big problem with in car temperatures reaching 50 degrees Centigrade. Expansion in London? - Crossrail will be 3-4 years behind schedule , when it finally opens and probably more than 2 Billion Pounds over budget. Hardly effective expansion.

Living one station from he Games on 2012 is like saying you will be living in Omotsando during the Tokyo games. How on earth would transportation affect you? You are just wishing to be anti Japan for there sake of it.

Tokyo residents will adapt during the two weeks next year and things will run as smoothly as they did in London, I am very sure of it. This is Tokyo. and no disrespect intended, but not Rio or Athens.

-9 ( +3 / -12 )

One suggestion, take out ALL the seats on the trains, make them SRO! Only during the Olympics of course!

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

I'll always remember my first ride on a crowded train in Tokyo. I was standing near the door and when the train stopped and opened its doors, somebody behind me wanted to get off. I pushed forward as much as I could but it was so crowded. The guy took advantage of this slight opening, pushed me slightly more forward and lunged over me like a gazelle. It was so impressive. it was like watching a world class hurdler and long jumper both rolled up in one. I was very impressed.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

One suggestion, take out ALL the seats on the trains, make them SRO! Only during the Olympics of course!

Then you are effectively saying that those who need to sit are barred from using the trains.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

@Luddite: Yes - its seriously decrepit. Underfunded, Years behind in track maintenance, Years behind in siganaling technology, Years behind in timetable management. No Air Conditioning (which in the warm summer now happening as part of the earths natural cycle) is becoming a big problem with in car temperatures reaching 50 degrees Centigrade. Expansion in London? - Crossrail will be 3-4 years behind schedule , when it finally opens and probably more than 2 Billion Pounds over budget. Hardly effective expansion.

Living one station from he Games on 2012 is like saying you will be living in Omotsando during the Tokyo games. How on earth would transportation affect you? You are just wishing to be anti Japan for there sake of it.

Tokyo residents will adapt during the two weeks next year and things will run as smoothly as they did in London, I am very sure of it. This is Tokyo. and no disrespect intended, but not Rio or Athens.

Yes, I said it was underfunded and old, air conditioning is impossible on the deep lines, such as the Piccadilly and Central lines, but air conditioned trains are on other lines, such as the District Line. Crossrail will be open in the central area next year and will take a whole lot of congestion from the Central Line especially. Living one station from the Games means I was able to travel with spectators and athletes of the Games when on my way to work and when out and about. It was obvious you weren't in London during the Games, I doubt you've ever been there.

You seem determined to ignore the problems that Tokyo will experience and refuse to accept how London 2012 is different in many ways. Disagreeing that it will be all unicorns and rainbows in Tokyo during 2020 isn't 'anti-Japan', just realistic. Putting your head in the sand won't make the problems go away, nor will crying xenophobia.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

Well Luddite, I go to London at least 3 times a year, and am well used to the public transportation there. I did used to live there myself. No, I was not there during the Olympics as I had to work here to allow those with Children time off. I do not think that it will be Unicorns and Rainbows at all, but I don't think we will see any major life changing problems here with a little sensible planning by residents here. It's not sticking my head in the sand. This country has many problems., yet somehow seems to cope better than most and just push on as much as people like you seem to wish it wouldn't. I've been here long enough and seen enough to see how the 'people' cope on a day to day basis for better or for worse. I am pretty sure that we share similar views on the Government and their organizational abilities.

-9 ( +2 / -11 )

Already decided that I will be escaping to my in laws' house up in Hokkaido next summer. Sod staying in Tokyo whilst the Olympics are on!

6 ( +7 / -1 )

What will happen?

Trains will be late...Not an issue in any way.

If Japanese get packed like sardines in a can, come to France during a strike by the national train company to experience chaos and crowdedness on a weekday. You arrive at destination normally one to 2 hours late if you dont' think ahead.

Tourists will be smart enough for most to leave earlier to get on Olympic sites.

So what ?

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Reckless - This misery has been part of my life for the past 10 years on the Toyoko Line. Well I certainly have had enough. 

I'm out of Japan early next year and the transit crush is a major determining factor.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

London has the oldest underground network in the world, and suffers for it. It is not fair to compare the original underground to more recent subterranean metro rail.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

The picture is misleading. The scenes of the picture are rarely seen today. Trains in Tokyo are not as much crowded as in the past.

-6 ( +1 / -7 )

I have experienced the normal rush-hour crush at Shinagawa station, 6 pm on a weekday... as a non-Japanese, the human tide there is incredible to observe, and a little unnerving to be a part of. So I can only imagine what it will be like during the Olympics. Having said that, I would never attend any Olympics in person, for all kinds of variations on the same theme. So... I wish the people of Tokyo the very best at that time, and those who have the ability to leave the city and put their jobs on hold for that time, you will be the happy ones! Unfortunately, not every employer will facilitate this - or even be able to, some workplaces have to function no matter what.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Tokyo has a great opportunity to relieve some of the stress on the train system by expanding its bicycle share system and adding a network of protected bike lanes.

They blew it.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Why not have olympics near a village in the country? Why pack tokyo further? How about shiozawa in niigata?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

In a word. No.

gaman and bear the unbearable.

So basically suffer?

3 ( +3 / -0 )

It's gonna be the mother of all fights getting about.Tokyo is bad enough as it is and now with the Olympics? I feel for the people who have to go to work on a daily basis amidst the scrum. The Internet,tv and other forms are good enough for me to keep up.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Really do hope that the Chuo-Shinkansen for a shorter distance can come inte operation to a bit release the traffic jam.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Generally, Tokyo companies pay their employees' rail travel costs. They are not doing it as a charity, therefore they must get some tax offset from the government for this. If the government can change the tax incentives so that working from home is a better option, strain on the rail system will be permanently improved, not just for the Olympics. So, adjust the current tax incentives, and give the employers similar tax breaks but only for proven implementation of secure home working systems.

1_Less stress for the commuters

2_Less crowding on the rail system, more room for Olympic visitors

3_Improved information technology across Tokyo

Could it happen? YES!

I appreciate working from home can't work for everyone, but it could make enough of a difference. At my employer's expense, I typed over secure internet connections, phoned and conference-called from home during the London Olympics, saved an hour or two's commute one or two days a week, and that became my work pattern thereafter.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It's not just the crush.. but the really foul smelling breaths that simply is off putting. And... will possibly leave a lasting bad impression of Japan upon any effected visitors.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I don't think it's going to be that bad really. The Olympics are a year away, and with the potential of a forthcoming Global recession looming we may all be out of a job, so plenty of seats upon the trains.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

While Japanese commuters are used to being packed into trains like sardines, at the hands of station staff pushing them into the carriages, International Visitors will not travel like that. They will either wait for trains that are not packed or will choose taxi's or buses.

Japan has great service but it's capacity at peak times is well under International standards due to the higher level of public transport use in Japan. International visitors for the Olympics will fast learn to avoid peak hour train travel.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

As an indication of what to expect, my local station, JR Sendagaya, is one of the closest to the future Olympic Stadium. Before they demolished the old National Stadium, it was used for High School Soccer Finals. After a match, the whole area around the station became so clogged with people that it was impossible for anyone to move. They are now reinstating the second platform from 1964 and adding a few more ticket gates, but they cannot enlarge the surrounding streets. Guaranteed 2020 chaos .......

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Well .... I really hope there will be no jumpers during the rush hour . It’s awful to be stuck in the train for about 50 min with no space to move and no space to breathe.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Many comments here by people who have apparently never had to deal with commuting by rail in other major cities. London can be very nasty. Two years ago I took my two Tokyo born and raised teenage sons to London. They found the crowding in the London Underground very intimidating compared to Tokyo. When I worked in London, I avoided the Underground whenever I could. You never knew when the trains might stop between stations for long periods with no announcements as to why.

Further, anyone who thinks commuter trains in Tokyo are crowded has not seen what passes for normal in India. Search on "commuter trains India" for videos.

The picture is misleading. The scenes of the picture are rarely seen today. Trains in Tokyo are not as much crowded as in the past.

Not obvious to me why this posting should get some or any down votes. It's true. I've been commuting in Tokyo since 1971. It was much worse then. Less than 10% of Tokyo trains had air conditioning. The schedules on some lines actually listed the few trains that had air conditioning.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

In a word: NO.

Henny Penny: "Many comments here by people who have apparently never had to deal with commuting by rail in other major cities. London can be very nasty."

Show me any single place as nasty as this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwbPdF5dIgQ

That's a regular day. Now imagine thousands of spectators and thousands more tourists. Sure, 1% of company employees may be allowed to stay home and work.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

We're explaining to all the companies and the media, asking people not to work during those two weeks," Nishinari said. "Just enjoy the Olympics."

This guy is totally out of touch.

1) Tickets unavailable, except at very high prices. Only way to watch it is on TV.

2) Not working means no income for many, and even less chance of buying a very expensive ticket.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Show me any single place as nasty as this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwbPdF5dIgQ

The video is from 2008. The trains appear to be on the Seibu (private) system which has been very significantly upgraded since this video was made. (The video is probably older than 2008.)

You can see much worse on commuter lines in India.

That's a regular day. Now imagine thousands of spectators and thousands more tourists. Sure, 1% of company employees may be allowed to stay home and work.

As noted above, the video is more than a decade out of date. It apparently shows the morning rush into Tokyo from the suburbs. The tidal flow for Olympic events will be in a different direct and a different time.

The video also is clearly showing a winter scene. Heavy winter clothing causes additional crowding that is unlikely during the summer of 2020.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

it can handle, but it won,t be pretty.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites