Business

Japan considers law requiring local governments to fill transport gaps in rural areas

JIJI

The transport ministry is considering a new system to help maintain public transport services in nonurban areas at a time when the population has been declining.

The system will call on governments to create plans for securing means of public transportation and seek new service providers in case existing bus and railway companies face difficulties offering services, ministry officials said.

Through early engagement by local authorities, the ministry hopes to prevent public transportation from vanishing in rural areas. To introduce the system, the ministry will submit a bill to revise the regional public transport service revitalization law in the Diet next year, the officials said.

Population decline has led to a drop in bus and train ridership in the countryside. In fiscal 2018 ended in March, about 70 percent of bus route operators in the nation, mainly in rural areas, incurred losses. Some have been forced to scale down services partly by scrapping routes.

A bus route is scrapped six months after the operator reports its abolition to the local transport bureau, possibly making it difficult for the parties concerned to hold sufficient talks on providing alternative services during the period.

Under the system, when keeping existing services going seems difficult, towns, cities and other governments, based on their agreements with service providers and others concerned, would draft future plans, such as those to provide services from other transport firms, including through taxi-hailing apps, and solicit new service providers, the officials said.

The ministry will also require governments to make efforts toward producing plans stipulating public transport systems deemed most appropriate for the area, through a revision of its current regional public transport network promotion program, the officials said. Currently, local governments are allowed to create such plans only on a voluntary basis.

To make sure that local transport services are maintained, numerical targets, such as ridership, profit rate and amount of local subsidies, would be included in the plans by law, according to the officials.

Local governments creating such plans would be entitled to state financial assistance for covering costs to operate buses, the officials said.

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