Kyoto revamping crowded bus services amid rise in foreign tourists
As more foreign travelers visit the former Japanese capital of Kyoto, crowded and delayed city buses have become a headache for local citizens, prompting traffic authorities to take steps to ensure smoother passenger services and encourage the use of subway lines.
In Kyoto, passengers have generally boarded buses through the rear door and paid the fare when getting off from the front door for over 40 years.
But with the city now attracting around 55 million tourists a year, Kyoto City Bus services, whose routes includes popular tourist attractions, have become constantly crowded, with some tourists carrying large baggage.
As some foreign travelers also often have difficulty in paying the fare promptly with coins at the bus stops, it has become difficult for the city buses to maintain punctuality.
According to the Nihon Bus Association, the bus industry body, the boarding system for route buses varies by regions, with passengers paying fares when they get on through the front door in flat fare zones in Tokyo and Yokohama and Nagoya.
In the face of complaints from local citizens about delayed bus services, the Kyoto city government’s traffic bureau conducted a practical experiment last October to switch doors for boarding and alighting, and making passengers pay the fare when they get on.
Since the test showed that the change in entry and exit doors contributed to reducing the average stoppage time by 11.5 seconds, the bus operator plans to change its boarding system for the route connecting Kyoto Station and Ginkakuji Temple this fall and eventually introduce the new system on 61 routes where a flat fare system of 230 yen is applied.
The front area of Kyoto city buses has often been crowded as passengers tend to prefer staying in that area to get off from the front exit door. But the test showed changing the exit door to the rear contributed to the smoother drop off.
To encourage the use of local subway lines, the traffic bureau has also decided to raise the price of a one-day pass for the city bus from the current 500 yen ($4.7) to 600 yen on March 17 and cut the price of the one-day pass for co-use of city bus and subway systems by 300 yen to 900 yen.
“The pay-first system is rational and familiar to foreigners so I think the change would be effective,” said Fumihiko Suzuki, a transportation system journalist.
“But I’m not sure if tourists will become accustomed to using both bus and subway as there are only two subway lines in Kyoto and the places they can go by subway are limited compared with the elaborate bus routes,” he said.
With the number of foreign tourists to Japan estimated to have hit a record 28.69 million in 2017, up for the sixth straight year, Kyoto is not the only place facing difficulties in keeping a balance in the use of public transportation between tourists and local citizens.
Osaka and Fukuoka are plagued by traffic congestion caused by chartered tourist buses parked by the sides of roads. In Miyako Island in Okinawa Prefecture, a shortage of taxis has become a problem following a surge in the number of tourists to the southern island by cruise ships.
An official of the Japan Tourism Agency said as more foreigners come to Japan on independent tours, rather than group tours, public transportation systems in other cities will also likely be affected by the nation’s current tourism boom.