Express Bus, then Train to Central Tokyo

2012-05-01

Rail Update Japan

Express Bus, then Train to Central Tokyo

A growing number of companies are offering commuters new options to get from the suburbs to their destination in Tokyo’s urban centers — take an express bus part way, then transfer to a train. This lets them travel by road when it’s convenient but leapfrog over traffic jams when it’s not, arriving on time in either case. The new express bus/train partnerships are increasing transit options for commuters.

Avoid the Traffic Jams, and at a Discount Too

This type of service was first launched in April 2009 for transfers to Tsukuba Express trains at Yashio Station in Yashio, Saitama Prefecture. The station is located about 200 meters from the Yashio Parking Area (Yashio PA), beside Route 6 of the Shuto Expressway.

Route 6 connects to the Joban Expressway, making it convenient for Tokyo-bound express buses from Mito and other cities in Ibaraki Prefecture. Transferring to a train is permitted only for the inward journey toward Tokyo. Around 80 to 90 buses offer the service each day.

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Commuters using only JR’s express rail services from Mito to the metropolitan center of Ueno have more than an hour’s train ride one way, and it costs them about 3,500 yen for a non-reserved seat. It takes more than double that time on an express bus from Mito to Tokyo Station, but costs much less — about 2,000 yen. When the highway is congested, the savings of bus travel and the speed of train travel are both possible by getting off the bus at Yashio PA and boarding the train. If a display indicates congested conditions ahead, bus travelers will hear an announcement telling them they can transfer to a train. This gives them the option of pressing a button to signal they want to do that. Or, if they wish, they can remain on the bus until Tokyo.

“Almost every weekday, I take an express bus from the stop near my home in Mito,” says one man (56) who works at a company near Akihabara Station in central Tokyo. “The bus goes to Tokyo Station, but I get off at Yashio PA and take the Tsukuba Express. The train’s really convenient, and many other commuters transfer there too.”

According to statistics from the Kanto District Transport Bureau (Ministry of Transport), during the morning rush hour on Route 6 of the Shuto Expressway, traffic slows to a 50-minute crawl from Yashio PA to the Mukojima ramp — a distance of just 10 kilometers. During non-peak times, the same distance takes only about 10 minutes. On the Tsukuba Express train making every stop from Yashio to the terminus at Akihabara, commuters arrive in just 20 minutes. That trip generally costs 450 yen, but people transferring from express buses pay only 100 yen.

The same type of service started in October 2011 for a congested part of Route 3 of the same expressway, to the west of the metropolitan center. At Yoga PA, commuters descend the “emergency” staircase and walk about 300 meters to Yoga Station on the Tokyu Den-en-toshi Line, then take the train there. Commuters from Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefectures southwest of Tokyo have a choice of 120 to 130 express buses per day bound for Tokyo or Shinjuku stations, and to avoid a traffic jam they can transfer to a train at Yoga. For them, the train fare to Shibuya is just 100 yen, a saving off the regular 190-yen fare.

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The Keio Dentetsu Bus Company has express buses offering a similar type of service. Commuters can get off at the stop at Jindaiji on either side of the Chuo Expressway, then transfer to the company’s regular buses that use an ordinary street crossing under the expressway. For them, the fare is half what an ordinary street bus would charge.

The Kanto District Transport Bureau reports that the express bus-to-train option is catching on as a new way to commute, with ridership growing and both transportation modes benefiting.

Suburban Rail Terminuses Offer Possibilities, Too

Transportation experts are equally positive. Fumihiko Nakamura, the deputy director of the Institute of Urban Innovation, Yokohama, and a professor of urban transportation planning at the graduate school of Yokohama National University, is convinced buses have an important role to play in urban transportation. “When the possibility of traffic congestion makes commuters unsure when they’ll get to their destination, knowing they can avoid a traffic jam by transferring to a train sets their mind at ease, and this is more important than one may think.”

North of the metropolis, the Tobu Bus Company and Fukushima Transportation, Inc. operate express buses from Urawa-misono Station on the Saitama Rapid Railway line to JR’s Koriyama Station. The former station is less than a kilometer from the Urawa interchange on the Tohoku Expressway. This express bus route is receiving attention because it starts at the suburban end of a rail terminus of a line linked to the metropolitan center, instead of following the usual pattern described above. Professor Nakamura says there are other similar cases waiting for development, such as a route for Wakoshi Station (the suburban terminus for Tokyo Metro’s Yurakucho subway line), which happens to be near the end of the Kan-etsu Expressway.

He explains, “It’s not a case of buses competing against trains, or trains against buses. By partnering in this way, they make commuting a little bit easier, and this is bound to change the trend away from driving and toward public transportation instead.”

**

This article was originally published under the title Shutoken-hatsu (Getting on Board in the Tokyo Metropolis), in the April 8, 2012 Japanese-language Asahi Shimbun newspaper. We thank the publisher for granting us permission to present this article in translation.



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