National / Social Issues

Ministry to direct railways to let electric scooters onboard


The transport ministry plans to instruct railways to revise a regulation so that seniors and people with disabilities can bring their electric scooters onto trains, ahead of the Tokyo Paralympic Games in 2020.

According to the revision, only those who have purchased or borrowed electric scooters with government subsidies under legislation that supports people with disabilities would be allowed to board trains with the vehicles.

Currently, when people with disabilities want to board a train with such vehicles, they need to display documents that show their scooters are so designated. In addition, when they want to ride bullet trains and stay in a wheelchair-designated area, they need to make sure the scooter fits in that space.

People with disabilities have criticized the regulation, saying railways are being discriminatory in how they limit the use of scooters.

According to a nationwide group using electric wheelchairs, based in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, its member companies shipped 19,449 electric wheelchairs in fiscal 2013, of which 13,610, or about 70 percent, were electric scooters.

Many elderly people ride on electric scooters, also called “senior cars” in Japan.

“I can’t understand why only the electric scooters are targeted in the regulation,” said Masaru Yamana, 74, a social worker for people with disabilities in Chuo Ward, Osaka, who also uses a electric scooter.

“Railways say it’s about the size and weight of the vehicle, but my model weighs less and is smaller than other wheelchairs,” said Yamana. “It should be treated the same.”

Critics blame the transport ministry, saying it has failed to take measures to rectify the situation.

It has also hampered tourists who use the scooters from riding Japanese trains. In the United States, for instance, many wheelchair users ride electric scooters.

According to Yamana, there have been two separate cases, in 2010 and 2013, in which East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) didn’t allow American women on electric scooters to ride the bullet train to Kyoto due to the regulation.

“On trains where many people ride in a limited space, we have certain conditions to ensure the safety of the passengers,” said an official at JR East.

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