Every night in Tokyo, workers and partiers race for the last train to avoid an expensive taxi ride home or an overnight hotel stay. With that chronic problem in mind, Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose suggested he might allow some bus routes to run 24 hours a day and possibly extend the hours of operation for subways.
That change seems a reasonable one that fits the present trends of Tokyo life, but may present burdens in terms of electricity usage and other issues.
Tokyo is as dynamic and exciting city as any in the world, except between the last train at 1 a.m. and the first train around 5 a.m. Tokyoites form the largest population of any city in the world, and perhaps depend more than any other city on the city’s subways, trains and buses to live, work and play.
They are confined by the nightly shutdown.
The system is the envy of most cities around the world, especially for the high level of safety. The main reason given for stopping trains and subways has long been to allow maintenance checks, which are essential for a network with such heavy use.
However, safety is maintained these days with the help of advanced equipment, computers and cameras, in addition to human workers. Adding a few extra trains during the night will not reduce the current level of safety and punctuality.
The environmental impact of increasing transportation should be carefully considered. Running buses and trains will incur energy costs and the impact should be carefully examined.
However, after trains and buses stop, the city reverts to automobiles, mainly taxis. Running an extensive number of taxis for individual trips can hardly be considered environmentally sound.
Increased electricity usage may give power companies an excuse to expand their inherently dangerous practice of operating nuclear power stations, but that is a problem to be confronted with careful regulation of nighttime power usage.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to late-night transportation will be taxi companies, which could lose income.
However, having people out at night means more potential customers. Taxi drivers may lose long-distance fares, but have that offset by more customers on shorter runs.
A change in transportation will also affect work and leisure hours. The impact on overtime work could be harmful, making it easier for workers to stay at work later and for employers to ask for longer hours.
However, the issue of overtime should be addressed as a business problem. Many businesses have already begun substantial curbs on overtime that will not be affected by making transportation available 24 hours a day.
The effect on restaurants and clubs is likely to be very positive, with longer opening hours and greater flexibility.
Surely, Tokyoites should be allowed the personal freedom to decide what they want to do at what time of day, without being prodded home at a uniform time imposed by the transportation schedule. The last train serves as an odd kind of curfew, one that is not really needed.
People should be able to spend their leisure hours where — and when — they like and still be able to get around. With the right planning, extra transportation need not produce excessive power usage.
When 24-hour convenience stores and 24-hour bank ATM service began, nothing terrible happened in Tokyo. People shopped and banked when they wanted. The city, though, did become more diverse and much more convenient.