Japan’s major private railway operators are expanding efforts to make their services more convenient for passengers.
The performance of each firm has been solid due to the increase in the number of foreign visitors to Japan. But there are concerns that the dwindling population may present significant problems in the future.
Strategies to attract more passengers have been gradually shifting from the large-scale development of residential areas along railway lines to the introduction of convenient services.
Tokyu Corp launched an automatic teller service on May 8 that allows passengers to withdraw money from its ticket vending machines at stations. People who have an account with Japan Post Bank or the Bank of Yokohama and have registered in advance can withdraw money from the machines using a smartphone application.
Withdrawals of 10,000, 20,000 or 30,000 yen ($91, $182 or $273) can be made, with fees ranging from about 108 to 216 yen per withdrawal.
“Enabling cash withdrawals in stations . . . will make things more convenient for passengers,” a Tokyu official said.
In the Tokyo metropolitan area, commuter passes are also changing.
Odakyu Electric Railway Co has had success selling dual-operator commuter passes that enable passengers to travel between destinations on the Odakyu line and on the Tokyo Metro.
Keio Corp also sells a similar type of commuter pass. “Passengers who take lessons after work are taking advantage of it,” a Keio official said.
Other railway operators are increasing commuting options.
Keihan Electric Railway Co has introduced a service with only reserved seating, linking Osaka and Kyoto.
In September, Keihan expanded services between Demachiyanagi Station in Kyoto and Yodoyabashi Station in Osaka, with three additional trains servicing the route. In Kyushu, Nishi-Nippon Railroad Co also is studying the introduction of reserved-seating train services.
Some railway firms have established day care centres and nurseries in areas that their lines travel through.
According to the Japan Private Railway Association, the number of passengers of 16 major private railroad firms hit about 10 billion annually in fiscal 1991, but the number declined to about nine billion in fiscal 2004.
The number has since risen, increasing to over 10 billion due to the sharp rise of foreign visitors to Japan.
Yet, there have been strong concerns among railway operators, which have experienced a considerable decline of passengers in the past.
Private railway operators in urban areas have expanded mainly through large-scale developments of residential areas. Attracting more people to live in areas along the lines means more people use the train services and retail shops owned by subsidiaries of the railway firms.
However, the amount of land available for such large-scale development has declined. To address the situation, each company is now focused on providing new services to attract and retain customers.
“Without increasing convenience to people living in areas along the line, we can’t survive in a depopulating society,” an official of a major private railway firm said. THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN (JAPAN)/ASIA NEWS NETWORK