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Tokyo kicks off campaign to ease jam-packed rush hour trains

Kyodo

Tokyo on Tuesday launched a campaign to ease overcrowding on trains during morning rush hour — one of the capital’s most infamous blights — by encouraging staggered commuting.

With about 260 companies and municipalities taking part, the two-week campaign will get a boost from extra trains in the early morning hours. Commuters who avoid rush hour will also have a chance to win gifts.

Called Jisa Biz (the word jisa means “time difference” in English) and led by Gov. Yuriko Koike, the campaign is aimed at alleviating train congestion in the run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

Koike promised to alleviate train congestion during her successful run for governor last summer. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government plans to make it a yearly campaign.

“Packed trains and long working hours are a remnant of Japan’s rapid growth period backed by mass production and mass consumption,” Koike said. “Changing such a mindset is the key” to the campaign’s success.

Early Tuesday, the governor visited Shinjuku-Nishiguchi Station on the Oedo Line to view an event where bottles of water were handed out to early morning commuters.

Other rail operators will increase the number of special and early morning trains as part of the campaign.

Tokyu Corp. will run a special limited express train between Shibuya and Chuo-Rinkan stations on the Denentoshi Line between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. through July 21, while Tokyo Metro Co. will boost the number of its early morning trains.

Commuters hopping on trains before and after rush hour on weekdays can also collect points giving them a chance to win gifts as part of the campaign by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s Bureau of Transportation.

About 260 municipal governments and firms, including Microsoft Japan Co., Panasonic Corp. and Suntory Holdings Ltd., as well as railway operators including East Japan Railway Co. (JR East), Odakyu Electric Railway Co. and Tokyo Metro Co., are taking part.

Some, including NTT East Corp., said they have made greater efforts to encourage employees to start work earlier ahead of the campaign. Others were expected to promote flexible working hours or telecommuting.

In fiscal 2015, train congestion rates on many Tokyo area railways topped 150 percent during the morning rush hour, with passengers crammed shoulder to shoulder. On some railways, the rates approached 200 percent, according to the transport ministry.