Annals of cheap: Narita express buses

December 22nd, 2014 by Philip Brasor & Masako Tsubuku

Screen shot of new express bus service to Narita Airport

Screen shot of new express bus service to Narita Airport

We live in northern Chiba Prefecture on the Hokuso Line, part of the conduit for the Sky Access Express, a train that runs between Haneda and Narita airports and which incorporates a number of other private railways. Our closest station is only three stops from Narita International Airport, and it takes a little more than 20 minutes to get there. However, it costs ¥790 one-way, which seems like a lot of money for such a short journey.

The reason for the high fare is that the Hokuso Line is one of the most expensive train lines in Japan owing to its high construction costs and the fact that not enough people use it to pay off those costs. But if you take the Sky Access from Nihonbashi on the Toei Asakusa Subway Line, it takes one hour and 8 minutes to get to Narita and costs only ¥1,330. Though passengers who board the Sky Access for Narita at stations on lines other than the Hokuso still have to ride over Hokuso tracks, they don’t have to pay Hokuso prices.

What’s even more frustrating for us is that now there are express buses between central Tokyo and Narita Airport that cost only ¥1,000 each way. A company called B Transse, headquartered in Chiba City, launched an airport bus service in August 2012 between Ginza and Tokyo Station at one end and Narita Airport at the other: ¥1,000, one hour. And don’t worry. It has toilets.

The impetus behind the new service is the rise of Low-Cost Carriers (LCC), or budget airlines, which have been gaining a foothold at Narita ever since Haneda Airport in Tokyo started increasing the number of its international flights. Right now, 21.5 percent of all the flights in and out of Narita are LCCs. In April, Narita will open a new terminal dedicated exclusively to LCCs.

The thinking, as one B Transse employee told Tokyo Shimbun in a Dec. 17 article, is that LCC passengers are typically paying less than ¥10,000 for a domestic flight, so why would they pay ¥3,000-¥4,000 just to get to the airport, which was the standard price for either limousine buses or express trains before BT started its cheap ride service. In the beginning BT offered 61 one-way trips a day between Tokyo Station and the airport.

On Dec. 16, however, the company started a collaborative effort with JR Bus Kanto to offer, between them, 79 one-way trips: 67 by BT and 12 by JR. Except for a three-hour period between 1 and 4 a.m., this service is round-the-clock, which is important for LCC passengers since so many budget flights leave so early, when other transportation services may not be running.

BT wasn’t the first bus company to offer cheap rides. Keisei Bus started ¥1,000 service to the airport in July 2012, a month before BT. Moreover, if you make a prior reservation on Keisei, you only have to pay ¥900.

Tokyo Koku Kotsu, which operates the Airport Limousine Bus, even started offering cheaper prices, though because they serve most major hotels and have bus stops in locations other than Tokyo Station, their discounts are limited. The standard price is about ¥3,000 one-way, but if the passenger is 15 years old or younger, or 65 years old or older, the fare is only ¥2,000. Other discounts are offered on a seasonal or special promotional basis.

The move to cut prices has also affected rail travel to Narita. The JR Narita Express (N’Ex) has reduced its fares from ¥2,970 to ¥1,500, but only for foreigners, which includes foreign residents of Japan, since all you need to qualify for the discount is a foreign passport. What’s important to remember about JR is that while N’Ex trains start or end at Shinjuku and Tokyo Stations, the express ticket to or from Narita can be used to or from any JR station within Tokyo, which makes it more convenient than discount buses whose western terminal is limited to Tokyo Station. But this discount only applies to trains from Narita.

For that matter, it’s instructive to review other railway options. The Keisei Honsen Tokkyu express train will take you from Ueno Station in Tokyo to Narita Airport in one hour and 10 minutes and cost you only ¥1,030, but you may have to stand since there are no reserved seats. And, of course, there’s the Keisei Skyliner from Ueno Station, which takes less than 40 minutes, but the ¥2,470 fare has not changed.

There are also late night commuter buses that leave the Yurakucho and Marunouchi areas for select train stations in northern Chiba and which also terminate at the airport. These are designed for commuters who miss their last trains, but some air travelers with time to kill use them to get to the airport since they’re so cheap. You can also take the ¥210 shuttle from the Aeon Mall in Narita to the airport, which was set up for transit passengers with long layovers. Of course, you have to get to the Aeon Mall in the first place.

One Response

  1. As far as I was aware when I was in Tokyo this month, the N’Ex reduced ticket is only to from Narita to Tokyo. It’s still full fare for the return trip.

    Thanks for posting this. I wasn’t aware of the cheap bus options before.


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