Fewer night owls seen utilizing Tokyo's 24-hour bus service in recent months

Fewer night owls seen utilizing Tokyo's 24-hour bus service in recent months
A 24-hour bus service between the Shibuya and Roppongi districts of Tokyo has been running since December last year.

Although six months have passed since the Tokyo metropolitan government began its 24-hour bus service between the Shibuya and Roppongi districts in December last year, passengers began to dwindle soon after the service got off to a good start.

The metropolitan government initially aimed at a ripple effect from the bus service, such as around-the-clock city functions and a more diversified night life. But these effects have not materialized, and some government officials say the number of passengers will not increase no matter what they do.

At 1:40 a.m. from the Roppongi district, where many people were still coming and going, a bus left for JR Shibya Station.

"Without this bus, I would have no choice but to walk or take a taxi to go home," said a female passenger in her 20s, who works as a cook.

However, there were only 15 passengers on the bus.

The bus service between Shibuya and Roppongi is offered from after 1 a.m. to after 5 a.m. every Saturday. Buses run every 70 minutes for a total of four round-trips. The special bus fare is set at ¥420 (S$5.12) when paid in cash, which is twice the regular fare.

Immediately following the bus service's debut on Dec. 21, about 300 people used the bus service per night. However, demand began to ebb after the turn of the year. Passengers have recently diminished to a level of 70 to 80 per night, and the metropolitan government's Transportation Bureau now admits being in a tough situation.

Former Tokyo Gov. Naoki Inose proposed and started the 24-hour bus service, saying, "We can change the lifestyles of Tokyoites by making the city function around the clock."

It was expected that 24-hour services would then spread to other transport and public facilities for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

The metropolitan bus route between the Shibuya and Roppongi districts is a source of big profits, and the metropolitan government at first showed confidence about the high demand. However, the bus service has some weak points, such as no connection with trains, and such 24-hour services still do not seem to be offered by other commercial facilities.

Though Tokyu Corp. extended train service on its Toyoko and Den-en-toshi lines, which serve Shibuya Station, by about 30 minutes on Friday nights, and the Mori Art Museum in the Roppongi district pushed back its closing time from 10 p.m. to midnight on Fridays starting in December last year, both the train operations and the museum service have returned to their regular hours of operation since the turn of the year. An official of the museum revealed the reason, saying, "The number of visitors did not increase a lot."

At first, the special bus service aroused concern that it would take away customers from taxi services, but a taxi driver who often waits for customers in the Roppongi district said, "The buses don't run every 10 or 20 minutes, so I barely see an impact."

Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe plans to decide whether to keep or end the service by the end of the year after listening to users' voices over the year. According to a survey conducted from January, most of the passengers are young men and women.

Meanwhile, in the Tama district of western Tokyo, the number of buses operated by the metropolitan government has decreased even though they are an important means of transportation for local residents. Masuzoe said he would consider bus operations by taking into account Tokyo's entire traffic system, not just one section.

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