Train commuting down in Tokyo, Osaka metropolitan areas

The Yomiuri Shimbun
People are seen at Tokyo Station in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Thursday, after the Golden Week holidays.

The pandemic has been affecting how people in Japan’s congested metropolitan areas commute to work, according to a survey by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, which found that 11.7% of Tokyoites and 9.8% of Osaka Prefecture residents have stopped commuting to work by train amid the novel coronavirus.

Conducted in December last year, the survey targeted residents of the Tokyo metropolitan area and the Kansai region, and received about 1,500 responses.

Of respondents in the greater Tokyo area who said they had been commuting by rail in November 2019, 11.7% in Tokyo, 11.4% in Kanagawa Prefecture, 10.3% in Chiba Prefecture and 9.6% in Saitama Prefecture reported that they had stopped using the train to get to work after the novel coronavirus outbreak.

In the Kansai region, apart from Osaka Prefecture, the rate was 18.6% in Nara Prefecture, 16.5% in Kyoto Prefecture, and 9.5% in Hyogo Prefecture.

Among workers who continued to commute by train in the Tokyo metropolitan area, the rate of respondents who said they took the train five or more days a week ranged from 35.4% in Tokyo to 52.6% in Chiba Prefecture — a drop of about 30 to 40 percentage points compared to before the pandemic.

The number of such commuters in the Kansai region also decreased by about 20 to 30 percentage points, suggesting that workers in the nation’s two largest metropolitan areas have transitioned to telecommuting or opted to commute by alternative means, such as by bicycle.

In March, the Ministry formulated guidelines for railroad operators to provide easy-to-understand congestion information on straphangers’ smartphones and other devices.

East Japan Railway and West Japan Railway are also considering the introduction of variable fares in order to help reduce congestion on their trains.