Commentary / Japan

Traffic and transportation strategies for the 2020 Games

by Takeo Hirata

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics are only eight months away and extensive planning and preparations have been progressing steadily for years. Teams of experts are on schedule in their work on the multitude of component parts required to make the games go smoothly for residents and international guests. A key area of importance is the development of innovative traffic and transportation management strategies for the surge in travelers and traffic during the games and the various trial events.

The Olympic Village and many of the facilities such as the event venues are located in areas with heavy commuter traffic and complex logistics. On top of that, demand for transportation for athletes, games-related officials as well as spectators will add to the regular traffic volume. Therefore it will be imperative to ensure smooth operation of transportation for Olympics-related traffic while concurrently maintaining the economic and daily routine activities in the Tokyo metropolitan region.

However, simulation results indicate that the time loss caused by road traffic congestion in the metropolitan expressway network will become twice as serious, and that heavy congestion of train commuters will occur in and around stations near the games’ venues unless extra measures are taken.

To help solve this problem, legal amendments enacted in 2018 will establish a four-day holiday before and after the Olympic opening ceremony on July 24 and a three-day holiday around the closing ceremony on Aug. 9 to reduce the volume of commuter traffic and economic activities.

Furthermore, we need to take a comprehensive approach, including traffic-demand management, traffic regulation and additional countermeasures to reduce traffic volume by predetermined targets, such as 30 percent in central Tokyo, where traffic is heavily concentrated.

To meet these targets, it is indispensable to establish a framework for consideration and promotion by the government and private sector to jointly modify traffic behavior to ensure successful operation of the Olympics. Thus, I am leading a panel called the Smooth Traffic and Transportation Promotion Committee, which was set up with the participation of representatives from government and business associations.

The transportation strategies that the panel is addressing, from the standpoint of the national government in coordination with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, are listed below.

As the first step, we are promoting travel demand management (TDM) to reduce, disperse and level off traffic demand by asking for the public’s cooperation. For this purpose, we launched the “2020 TDM promotion project” in August 2018 in collaboration with the metropolitan government, the organizing committee and major economic associations. It broadly encourages people to take more days off and to adopt telecommuting and diverse office hours to disperse the peak-time demand for public transportation. It also requests changes in delivery hours and routes for trucking services, as well as to reduce road traffic volume through conversion to the use of public transportation.

Along with efforts to encourage many firms and organizations to join the project, we have provided detailed information by holding seminars, showcasing specific case examples and creating maps that illustrate the expected impact on road and railway traffic during the games. More efforts are necessary to restrain road traffic arising from distribution networks with nationwide supply chains through collaboration between the trucking service providers and their clients.

In addition to TDM, traffic system management (TSM) to control vehicle traffic in accordance with road traffic conditions is under consideration. Proposed measures will include closing entrances to expressway networks, closing off toll gates to reduce the flow of traffic into central Tokyo and shortening the time that traffic lights stay green.

Trials of TDM and TSM were carried out in July and August by setting targets equivalent to what will actually be required during the games. Weekdays from July 22 to Aug. 2 (the Olympic Games period) and from Aug. 19 to 30 (the Paralympic Games period) were the trial periods for intensive tests, during which we sought the participation of both the public and private sectors. The most intensive trials were held on July 24, a year before the opening ceremony of the Olympics.

The trials showed that movement was smooth enough on the metropolitan expressways and other roads in central Tokyo on the days when the traffic regulations were in effect, although heavier than normal congestion developed on roads on the periphery of the capital’s center. The trials also resulted in some reduction in railway passengers, mainly during the peak commuting hours. However, I believe extra steps will be necessary to reduce road traffic because vehicles transporting athletes and officials will be added to the regular traffic volume during the games.

An additional measure, a “road pricing” system, is currently under consideration. This would shift and curb daytime traffic on metropolitan expressways by providing a discount during late-night hours while adding ¥1,000 to the regular toll during daytime. If implemented, it will be the first time that road pricing is implemented for the Olympics and Paralympics in the world.

We have made decisions on traffic and transportation strategies for the 2020 Tokyo Games based on analyses of the trials held this summer, and have entered the next phase of implementing these decisions.

It is hoped that these steps will prompt a change in people’s traffic behavior and expedite introduction of teleworking and diverse office hours, thereby finally helping to establish new work styles and lifestyles as a key legacy of the 2020 Games.

To realize smooth transportation during the games it is essential for all parties to work together to effectively and harmoniously execute the new and necessary measures. I will continue to rally our citizens, our industries and all affected sectors to cooperate for successful and innovative transportation during the games and after. I hope that the legacy of our efforts will benefit our generation and those in the future.

Takeo Hirata, a professor at the Waseda University Graduate School of Sports Sciences, serves as secretary-general of the headquarters for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games and special adviser to the Cabinet. He is responsible for coordinating the government’s overall efforts regarding the Tokyo 2020 Games.

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