Cutting routes, reducing services, discontinuing business… “What is happening now on the frontlines” as told by the parties involved in the “problem of abolishing bus routes”. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Cutting routes, reducing services, discontinuing business… “What is happening now on the frontlines” as told by the parties involved in the “problem of abolishing bus routes”.

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The elimination of bus routes has become a nationwide problem due to a serious shortage of labor. Not only are bus routes being cut and bus services being reduced, but some operators are even going out of business. What is happening in the field?

Kongo Bus announced that it will “discontinue bus operations” on December 20.

Aging population, the 2024 problem, inbound travel…complicated issues

Kongo Jidosha, which has operated the “Kongo Bus” in Tondabayashi City in southern Osaka Prefecture, announced on September 11 this year that it will discontinue its bus business on December 20. The company cited a shortage of crew members and declining sales as reasons for the discontinuation.

Kongo Bus has operated 15 routes in the city, which will no longer be in operation after December 21. According to a local city council official, the local management council is discussing the issue and has decided that Kintetsu Bus, Nankai Bus, and the local government’s community buses will cover the routes operated by Kongo Bus for the time being. However, he adds, “The number of services will be greatly reduced.

The number of services will be greatly reduced, and the last service of the night will be moved up and earlier. The buses used to be a means of transportation for the elderly during the daytime, but the reduced number of services will make it inconvenient for the elderly. If the last bus leaves earlier, it will be more difficult for those who come home from work in Osaka City.

In addition, this city council member points out that the Kongo Bus route network has the problem of being bifurcated into Kintetsu Bus and Nankai Bus routes. The city council member also pointed out that the Kongo bus route network is bisected by the Kintetsu Bus and Nankai Bus routes, and that it is difficult to ensure convenient connections between the two routes, even if community buses are used to transfer between the two routes, due to profitability issues and other factors.

On the surface, the community buses would cover the Kongo Bus route network, but there would still be the problem of ensuring sufficient service as before and the problem of transferring between the two bifurcated route networks.

The community buses to connect between the respective routes will also be discussed as a building block, and the local government will say, ‘We did what we could do,’ but since you all don’t ride, we couldn’t get enough passengers to cooperate,” said a city council official.

(City council member), and is concerned that the convenience of the system will be left behind.

On the other hand, a local city hall official in charge of transportation policy said, “We will start securing foot traffic from December 21,

We have been giving top priority to ensuring that passengers will be able to use the buses from December 21, and we have only had about three months since the announcement on September 11 that the bus service would be discontinued. It is an emergency situation.

We have no time to deal with such issues,” he said.

Of the 15 routes operated by Kongo Bus, the company will maintain a certain number of services on its five main routes. The local government seems to have its hands full with such emergency measures.

The general manager of Kongo Bus, which has been operating the Kongo Bus, explains that the serious shortage of drivers is behind the decision to discontinue the bus service.

There is also the profit aspect, but if it is just a profit problem, I think there were ways to manage the business to make it profitable, such as by utilizing subsidies through ingenuity. However, starting next April, overtime regulations for drivers will be introduced, and we will have to hire twice as many drivers as we do now to operate the bus.

Kongo Bus currently has 17 drivers, including three dispatched from Kintetsu Bus, for a total of 20. Meanwhile, from April 2012, annual overtime hours for drivers will be limited to a maximum of 960 hours. The company will not be able to operate after next April unless it doubles the number of 17 Kongo Bus drivers.

A general affairs manager at Kongo Motors also said, “We have been working on the buses for a few years now, but we have been unable to operate them.

A few years ago, we had about 30 bus drivers. After Corona, we stopped receiving applications, and even if we did, the applicants would leave soon after they were hired.

Behind the lack of bus drivers is the aging of the local population and the fact that young people are leaving their hometowns for the cities, and no one dares to come from elsewhere to work for the bus companies.

In addition, the post-Corona revival of inbound travel to Japan has increased the demand for sightseeing bus drivers, and drivers are flowing to sightseeing buses, which offer better pay and other benefits.

A general manager of Kongo Jidosha said, “Not all of them, but I have heard that some of the drivers who are quitting are moving to better conditions, such as sightseeing buses.

In Kochi City, Okayama City, and even in Tokyo… Bullying, low wages, and hard labor are the causes of the bus driver shortage…

Kunio Shirotani, advisor (and first secretary general) of the Japan Bus Friendship Association, a voluntary organization of bus enthusiasts, speaks of the serious bus driver situation as follows.

Tosaden Bus is discontinuing more and more routes. Tosaden Bus is trying to make up for the shortage of drivers by reducing the number of buses it operates, cutting routes, and reducing the number of services.

Prime Minister Kishida expressed his intention to discuss “ride-sharing” as a solution to the serious shortage of bus drivers, while also listening to the opinions of local governments (PHOTO: AFLO)

Tosaden Bus, operated by Tosaden Kotsu (Kochi City, Kochi Prefecture), has been drastically restructuring its route network to improve profitability, focusing on sections that are expected to be heavily used.

In August of this year, eight leaders in public transportation, including Mitsunobu Kojima, president of Ryobi Group (Okayama City, Okayama Prefecture), compiled a proposal.

According to the report, there is a common understanding that the number of bus users will decrease by 10-20% from the pre-Corona level, and that it is impossible to maintain business operations in the future due to a shortage of labor. In addition to reviewing the fare system, he also argues that the time has come to allow foreign workers on shared-ride buses.

Mr. Shirotani points out that the shortage of bus drivers is serious not only in rural areas but also in Tokyo.

Even in Tokyo,” he says, “the number of buses has been reduced considerably. For example, the number of buses has been reduced from 20 per hour to 15 per hour. The situation is quite serious even in Tokyo, and it is even more severe in the rural areas.

Mr. Shirotani also points to peer bullying and the work environment as reasons for the serious shortage of bus drivers. The workplace of bus drivers is “a very small world,” and they are often bullied by their seniors. In addition, he said, wages for route bus drivers are low, and the working environment is harsh, with hours ranging from early morning to late at night.

I have the impression that many of them quit their jobs because they cannot continue their driving duties.”

If this situation continues, the elderly and others who do not drive, especially in rural areas, will be deprived of transportation, making it difficult for them to continue their lives. The government has recently begun to consider ride-sharing, which would allow private drivers to share rides in their vehicles.

It would be a good idea to use people who have a driver’s license and meet certain conditions, such as a three-year accident-free record, as rideshare drivers. It would be easier to register a few people in advance who are willing to cooperate, and when people want to carpool, they can ask to be allowed to ride with them, and even let people they don’t know ride with them.

Due to a serious shortage of bus drivers, bus route operation continues to be in a serious condition in many areas, with bus routes being closed or reduced. Will the introduction of ridesharing one day be the savior to supplement the local transportation system?

  • Reporting and writing Hideki Asai

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