Private rail lines want Diet ranks to pay up

Gripe dates back 20 years while JR, airlines get bills taken care of


Staff Writer

Both the Lower and Upper houses have failed for the last 20 years to respond to requests from an association of private railways to pay for the free train passes member companies provide to lawmakers.

The Association of Japanese Private Railways said it has been asking both Diet chambers to fork over money for the passes, but neither house has ever processed the requests.

All 722 Diet members have free access to most domestic transportation. Every year, the chambers budget ¥1.3 billion to pay for passes on Japan Railway Group carriers, which are technically private, as well as for Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways.

However, the Diet has never earmarked funds to pay for passes provided by other private railways and bus companies. The association’s member carriers provide lawmakers with passes every year.

The free-pass system started in 1946 for private railways and in 1961 for private bus lines at the request of the Lower House. The association agreed not to charge Diet members in either chamber after deciding that providing the passes would benefit them because lawmakers using their services would presumably better understand their needs.

About 20 years ago, however, the association started verbally asking both chambers to pay for the passes or abolish the system because it had become too expensive.

The group admits it has not kept records logging how much it cost to provide the passes or how frequently they have been used by lawmakers.

“It isn’t fair for the other customers who pay for their services. It’s . . . common sense,” the association’s spokesman said. Yet he acknowledged the association has never taken any action beyond mere informal requests.

The association said it plans to send an official document to request payment.

Both chambers said the requests have been informal as the association has never filed a formal document.

“It’s impossible for us to process such requests and pass them on to the lawmakers without any official documentation,” said Takayuki Oba of the Lower House administrative office.

Both chambers have been paying for passes from JR group companies since 1988, when legislation for such outlays took effect after the privatization of Japanese National Railways. Fees for domestic airline tickets have been paid since 1989 when a similar bill was passed. No bills to cover payments to the other private railways or to bus companies have ever been submitted.