Tokyo on Tuesday launched a campaign to ease overcrowding on trains during morning rush hour by encouraging staggered commuting.
To boost the two-week campaign, which involves a total of about 260 companies and municipalities, extra trains will run early in the morning while commuters avoiding the rush hour have a chance to earn gifts.
Called Jisa Biz, or staggered work shifts, and led by Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, the campaign is aimed at alleviating train congestion in the city in the run-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. Koike promised to mitigate train congestion when she first ran for governor last summer. The Tokyo government plans to make it a yearly campaign.
"Packed trains and long working hours are the remnant of Japan's rapid growth period backed by mass production and mass consumption. Changing such a mindset is the key" for the campaign to succeed, Koike said.
Early Tuesday, she visited Shinjuku-Nishiguchi station on the Oedo line to monitor an event to distribute bottles of water to early-morning commuters.
Tokyu Corp. will run a special limited express between Shibuya and Chuo-Rinkan stations on the Denentoshi line, which many suburban commuters take, through July 21 between 6 and 7 a.m., while Tokyo Metro Co. will boost the number of early-morning trains. People getting on trains before and after rush hour on weekdays can collect points giving them a chance to win gifts in a service offered by the Tokyo metropolitan government's Bureau of Transportation.
Participating companies and municipal governments will promote flexible working hours, or telecommuting.
In the 2015 fiscal year, the train congestion rates of many railways in the Tokyo area was well over 150 percent for the morning rush hour, with passengers packed shoulder to shoulder. With some railways, the rates almost reach 200 percent, with commuters' bodies pressed against each other, according to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.