Planned fare system should enable railways to enhance safety, accessibility

The installation of elevators and platform doors in train stations will greatly benefit users. It is important to obtain a broad understanding of the cost burden and to increase the number of safe and accessible stations.

The government has established a system under the Railway Business Law that allows the cost of modifying stations to make them accessible to everyone to be added to fares. The new rates are expected to be introduced in the spring of 2023 at the earliest.

Fixtures such as elevators, escalators, platform doors and braille blocks will be covered by the new system.

These fixtures are subsidized by the national and local governments, but because of the large costs involved, their installation has been slow. With the number of passengers decreasing due to the declining population and the coronavirus pandemic, business has become difficult for railroad operators, and they have been faced with the problem of how to meet the costs.

Securing financial resources to increase such fixtures by having passengers bear a certain amount of the burden is an understandable objective.

Of the about 9,500 stations in Japan, only 50% have taken measures to provide step-free access by using elevators or other means. Even among stations used by more than 2,000 people a day, about 600 stations do not have fixtures such as elevators. The government aims to have the fixtures installed by fiscal 2025.

The government also sets a target of increasing the number of platforms that have doors installed by 50%, to 3,000.

There have been a number of accidents in which blind people have fallen from platforms, and the installation of platform doors is urgently needed.

According to a government survey, there were 1,370 accidents involving falls from platforms in the last fiscal year. In addition to visually impaired people, many others fall due to alcohol consumption or poor health. Improving the accessibility and safety of station facilities would be beneficial to many users.

The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry said that it expects Japan Railway companies and major private railways to use the new system in the three major metropolitan areas of Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya. The ministry apparently aims to raise the level of accessibility throughout the country by allocating government subsidies more generously to regions that are lagging behind.

Under the new system, the additional fee is expected to be less than ¥10 per ride. The impact on household budgets should not be ignored. Consideration should be given to certain ideas such as not adding the fee to commuter passes for students.

The ministry plans to ask railroad operators to disclose their plans and progress in developing the facilities. The government must strictly check to see if its financial resources are being used properly.

It is worrisome that in recent years, stations with few staff on the platforms and other areas have become more noticeable. Railroad operators are urged to devise measures so that they can respond quickly in the event of an accident.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 8, 2022.