Tokyo launches 'Jisa Biz' campaign to relieve peak-hour commuter rush

Commuters at Ueno Station in Tokyo on June 16, 2017.
Commuters at Ueno Station in Tokyo on June 16, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO - The Japanese capital on Tuesday (July 11) kick-started a two-week drive to get companies and commuters to adopt staggered working hours, in an effort to relieve peak-time jams on the subways.

At around 7.50 am on Tuesday morning, Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike visited Shinjuku Nishiguchi station in western Tokyo, where staff of Unilever Japan were handing out bottled drinks to early commuters.

Unilever Japan is one of the more than 250 companies that have voiced support for the effort, along with All Nippon Airways, Panasonic and Suntory Holdings, reported Nikkei Asian Review.

Unilever Japan has adopted flexible work arrangements since last year, which is now used by the majority of its 500 or so employees, said Mr Takayuki Kitajima, the representative director. The company believes that a more comfortable commute will lead to higher productivity of its employees.

"Because of the packed trains, they were exhausted by the time they reached the office, then joined a long line waiting for the elevator at the ground floor. We thought this was simply unnecessary," Mr Kitajima told Nikkei.

Officials have said that the main reason for the peak-hour congestion is the nine-to-five working hours for the majority of workers.

According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism's transport census in large cities for fiscal year of 2015, 44 per cent of commuters within Tokyo's 23 wards were aboard trains at 8am.

Under the "Jisa Biz" campaign, the brainchild of Ms Koike, railway companies will be operating extra trains called "Jisa Biz Liners" from 6am to 7am throughout the campaign.

The metropolitan government took the lead by allowing employees to choose from nine time slots - ranging from 7am to 11am - their preferred reporting time for work, reported local media. The Tokyo government has also introduced teleworking.

The metropolitan government will encourage employees to begin work earlier through various methods during the campaign, including opening cafeterias in the building earlier than usual.

Private companies are encouraged to introduce flexi-work hours and teleworking for their staff.

Ms Koike is known for previously popularising "Cool Biz" attire, a lighter style of clothing popular with workers during the summer, reported Japan News.

"Crowded trains are synonymous with Tokyo and impede improvements in productivity and individual skills," the governor said. "After Cool Biz, I want Jisa Biz to be the next big thing to change society."

A survey of 2,000 commuters in Tokyo and Osaka released last year (2016) by online market research company Macromill showed that more than half of the respondents spend over an hour to commute by train and 95 per cent said they feel stressed over the journey, with the leading cause of stress attributed to overcrowding on the trains.

Tokyo, home to 13 million people, is one of the world's most densely-populated cities.