Reduction of Station Ticket Offices: Users Should Not Be Left Behind

East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) may have lacked consideration for users who are unfamiliar with digital devices and want to buy tickets face-to-face. It is important for the railway firm to consider the standpoint of the customers when making efforts to streamline operations.

JR East has announced that it will freeze, for the time being, its plan to reduce the number of its Midori-no-madoguchi ticket offices, which sell Shinkansen bullet train tickets, commuter passes and other products in person. Some of the stations that have already closed their ticket offices will temporarily reopen them on a limited basis during peak periods, according to the railway company.

The reduction plan was announced in May 2021. It called for reducing the number of stations with ticket offices from about 400 at that time to about 140 by 2025.

As the coronavirus pandemic had significantly worsened the company’s business, the plan was aimed at reducing costs by increasing sales of tickets via the internet and automatic ticket machines.

Currently, the number of ticket offices has been reduced by almost half to 209 stations. However, due to the rebound in the number of passengers, long lines formed at ticket offices during the peak periods at the end of last year and this spring, increasing users’ dissatisfaction. The increase in the number of foreign visitors to Japan who visited ticket offices has added to the congestion.

In some cases, people reportedly had to wait more than an hour to purchase tickets and commuter passes. It is therefore quite natural that JR East has temporarily frozen the reduction of ticket offices.

Instead of eliminating ticket offices, JR East is gradually introducing automatic ticket machines that allow customers to remotely talk to operators and be guided on how to use the machines. However, it cannot be said that awareness of such machines is high.

There are still a number of people who want to purchase their tickets at the ticket offices while consulting with station staff. Even younger people who are accustomed to digital devices have complained that JR East’s ticket sales website, “Eki-net,” is complicated and difficult to understand.

It would be regrettable if JR East was in such a rush in its digitization and labor-saving efforts that it resulted in causing inconvenience to users.

JR East should improve its online ticket sales service and automatic ticket machines so that people who are unfamiliar with these devices can use them. It should also reconsider the appropriate distribution of ticket offices. It is hoped that JR East will once more be aware of the significance of its social responsibility as a public transportation service operator.

In addition to reducing the number of ticket offices, JR East has been removing clocks at about 500 stations since 2021, on the grounds that most passengers can check the time by themselves due to the widespread use of mobile phones.

This also has been met with opposition from users. JR East needs to carefully listen to the voices of local residents.

JR East posted a net loss of ¥577.9 billion in the fiscal year ending March 2021 due to a sharp decline in passengers caused by the pandemic. But its performance has recovered to a profit of ¥196.4 billion in the fiscal year ending March 2024.

It will also be necessary to reconsider whether the cost-cutting measures decided on during a past emergency are still appropriate now that the Japanese economy has returned to normalcy.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 16, 2024)