Japan’s hellish commutes have become easier to bear in big cities lately thanks to state and corporate measures to contain the coronavirus epidemic.
Temporary school closures and the increased use of telecommuting and staggered work hours have eased rush-hour congestion on major train and subway lines, resulting in fewer delays, officials say.
“In the mornings, it is not as crowded as before. This is chiefly due to effects from temporary school closures, but maybe also from staggered commuting by corporate workers,” an official from Nagoya’s Transportation Bureau said.
According to the bureau, subway use in Nagoya on Tuesday was down 20 to 30 percent from about a month ago, with student ridership down by 60 percent.
In early February, there were often delays of several minutes during rush hour from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., but there are hardly any now, the bureau noted.
Similar changes are taking place in Tokyo.
On the capital’s heavily used Yamanote Line from Feb. 25 to Feb. 29, ridership during the morning rush hour was down 10 to 20 percent from the year before, according to East Japan Railway Co. (JR East).
An official with West Japan Railway Co. said that the same declines are being felt in the Kansai region.
“We can feel that the number of people using trains during the morning rush hour has decreased in the areas of Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe,” the official said.
For Tokyo Metro Co., there have been fewer subway delays this month compared with February, including on the Chiyoda Line, which chalked up the most delays among 45 lines in Tokyo and neighboring prefectures in fiscal 2018.
According to a transportation ministry survey of railways in Tokyo and neighboring prefectures, 54 percent of all delays under 10 minutes are caused by time needed to get on or get off, or to reopen train doors.
Tokyo Metro, however, maintained that it is unclear how much impact telecommuting and staggered commutes are having on delays as many workers preparing to retire from their jobs usually take vacations in March, when the fiscal year ends.
Still, “maybe measures such as staggered commuting can be used as a way to prevent train delays,” a ministry official said.