PUBLIC TRANSPORT

Tokyo considers drastic measures to relieve extreme overcrowding on subway system

According to statistics collated by the transport ministry, average capacity at the busiest times of the day in Tokyo came to 164 per cent in 2015, a level that has been steady for around 15 years

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 January, 2017, 5:47pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 January, 2017, 10:16pm

Famously efficient, punctual and clean, Tokyo’s subway and train systems transport 40 million passengers around the metropolis every day. But they have become victims of their own success and are now equally notorious for being overcrowded.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has called in outside experts in an effort to devise solutions to the problem of jam-packed carriages in the city, a problem in particular for millions of commuters going to and from work during the peak rush hours.

Commuting in overcrowded trains could be slowing society’s momentum
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike

Addressing the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly in September, Koike said: “Commuting in overcrowded trains could be slowing society’s momentum.”

According to statistics collated by the transport ministry, average capacity at the busiest times of the day in Tokyo came to 164 per cent in 2015, a level that has been steady for around 15 years.

That figure – which denotes the additional amount of passengers above the ideal benchmark set by the ministry per carriage – is a significant improvement on the 1970s, when it came to 221 per cent, but still makes commuting a daily test of endurance for millions of men and women.

Simply adding more trains to the timetable is not considered a viable plan as trains on the busiest routes already run every couple of minutes at peak periods, while adding carriages to existing trains would require extensive modernisation work at many stations to make platforms longer.

One solution that Koike has put forward would be to introduce double-decker trains, which are already in operation on many long-distance Shinkansen and in limited numbers as first-class carriages on lines that transit the capital.

Train operators have warned, however, that instead of easing congestion, carriages with an upper and lower levels might instead cause additional delays because the only access doors are at each end of the carriage and it takes a lot longer for passengers to embark and disembark than for conventional carriages with four or six doors.

For trains on the most congested lines – such as the Yamanote, which runs as a loop around central Tokyo, and the Chuo Line – that would simply be unworkable, the industry said.

Koike is taking advice from Hitoshi Abe, the president of transport consultancy LightRail, who has an alternative plan for double-decker carriages. The plan, the Asahi newspaper reported, is to have two levels but no connecting stairs. Instead, each level would have doors that would open on a two-storey platform, providing quicker and more efficient access.

Renovating stations to accommodate the new carriages would be expensive, Abe admitted, but would still be a lot cheaper than constructing new elevated tracks over existing lines to meet demand.

An even simpler solution would be to encourage companies to permit employees to work from home at least a couple of days a week, or to allow them to work at times other than those around the traditional rush hours.