Train service reductions conducted by Japanese railway operators in line with the government’s third novel coronavirus state of emergency are being questioned.
East Japan Railway Co., or JR East, has canceled the measure, which did not reduce the number of passengers and instead created congestion.
JR East President Yuji Fukasawa offered an apology at a regular news conference Tuesday, saying that the reduced services “resulted in trains being crowded.”
The state of emergency started in Tokyo and some other prefectures on April 25, ahead of the Golden Week holiday period from later that month to early May.
JR East initially planned to reduce train services on some of its lines in the Tokyo metropolitan area on three weekdays during the holiday period — April 30, and May 6 and 7.
But the number of passengers for trains on the Yamanote Line in Tokyo on May 6, when services were reduced as planned, was little changed from that on April 26, before the start of the Golden Week.
On some JR East lines on May 6, the congestion rate reached 180% for trains operated before and after canceled trains during the morning commuting hours. Given the development, JR East called off the service reduction and operated its trains on regular timetables on May 7.
Seibu Railway Co., which operates in Tokyo and neighboring Saitama Prefecture, canceled service reductions planned for May 6 and 7.
While the railway operators’ service reduction plans were based on requests from administrative authorities, some railway industry people had been concerned that the measure would instead create congestion.
The number of passengers failed to drop also because quite a few people refrained from taking leave for travel on the two days due to the epidemic.
At least this time, the movement of people did not slow, Fukasawa noted.
Kiyohito Utsunomiya, professor at Kansai University, said that the train service reductions were a “political message” aimed at curbing the flow of people.
At the same time, he said, “If cuts in the number of trains increase congestion, it will result in the deterioration of public transport services.”
The coronavirus state of emergency has been extended until May 31. But railway operators are not planning to reduce services because they have received no requests for such steps from relevant local authorities.
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