Posts Tagged ‘trains’

You can’t get there from here (at the same price with an IC card)

Saturday, May 18th, 2013

Cash or over-charge?

Cash or overcharge?

This spring the big news for train lovers was the integration of almost all the regional IC card services, thus making it possible to travel from one region to another on lines operated by different companies using a single IC fare card. But while computer systems have been linked successfully to allow for such inter-line transfers, one element of the changeover that has bothered public officials remained problematic: the non-integration of fares.

In some instances it actually costs more to go from point A to point B using an IC card than it does with a ticket, though most patrons aren’t aware of the fact. It depends on which lines you are using. For instance, if you are going from JR Kameari Station on the Joban Line in eastern Tokyo to JR Yokohama station and buy a ticket for the whole trip, it costs you ¥780. However, if you take the same route and use an IC card, ¥910 will be subtracted from your card balance. That’s because the Joban line turns into the Chiyoda subway line, which is operated by Tokyo Metro, after it passes Kita Senju, and the passenger then leaves the Chiyoda Line at Nishi Nippori and transfers back to JR in order to proceed on to Yokohama.

The ticket you buy from a vending machine takes these transfers into consideration and simply charges the zone-related JR fare between Kameari and Yokohama plus the Metro fare. But the IC card system doesn’t make such a distinction and each of the three legs of the journey is charged separately, meaning you pay two JR fares, one from Kameari to Kita Senju and another from Nishi Nippori to Yokohama, plus the ¥160 for the Chiyoda line between Kita Senju and Nishi Nippori.

The sticking point is JR East, and in Diet discussions about the IC fare discrepancy representatives of the company have said it’s a computer-related problem that they have yet to figure out, claiming that any changes to rectify the problem would “place on the system more of a burden” that might cause even more issues.

At the urging of Your Party the company did say it would make more of an effort to inform patrons of price differences where they occur. The various JR companies offer the Suica card system, but the equally popular Pasmo card has the same problem. In the Tokyo Metropolitan Area 80 percent of riders use one card or the other.

The problem is limited to transfers between JR and other lines. Other inter-line transfers don’t have the same problem. In fact, discounts that are normally offered to ticketed riders between the two Tokyo subway lines are integrated into the IC card fare structure, even when passengers leave one line through a wicket and enter the other through a different wicket. A transportation expert, discussing the problem in Tokyo Shimbun, said that such a change shouldn’t require a major system overhaul, and, in fact, JR recently announced it would make it possible for IC cards to subtract amounts of less than factors of ¥10 in line with the consumption tax increase, which means amounts of factors of ¥1 can be charged, but only if the patron has an IC card. Fares for tickets will still be rounded up to a factor of 10.

The fact is, the ticketing system costs operators more than the IC card system, which is why in London you pay less if you use a card than if you buy a ticket. Ideally, all patrons should use cards, so JR’s intransigence on the matter is difficult to explain.

Experience counts for something in JR embezzling incident

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

JR ticket office

On March 16, JR West pressed charges against a 50-year-old employee who allegedly embezzled ¥86 million. The unnamed worker, who was hired by the railway company in 1980, when it was still part of Japan National Railways (JNR), worked in the ticket office of Akashi Station on the JR Sanyo Line. He has been accused of printing out fake teiki (commuter passes) for which he gave out equally fake refunds that ended up in his pocket. All in all, he carried out this fraud 659 times and supposedly spent the money on gambling and other “entertainment” activities. But what’s more interesting is that he didn’t do it alone. He apparently enlisted the assistance of seven other staff members who confessed that they felt pressured into going along with the scheme because of the accused’s seniority.

The suspect first started the racket when he was working at Asagiri Station on the same line. He would issue fake passes and then dispense refunds for the passes after the imaginary customers who purchased them reported they were defective. Since these passes are issued by vending machines, the salesperson keeps the supposedly defective pass and refunds the money, which the customer uses to buy a new one. Under such circumstances the salesperson has to write a report for the refund and then later someone has to verify the refund report with the returned pass, but somehow the employee figured out that no one ever actually did this. In fact, he probably could have continued the scam indefinitely if another employee in JR Nishi Nihon who worked on the Takarazuka Line hadn’t been caught doing the same thing, thus causing management to look a little closer at records to see if it wasn’t more widespread. Apparently it was. Even before they caught the Akashi embezzler, investigators discovered an employee at Osaka Station who had pilfered ¥32 million.

But none of the other embezzlers used underlings to help them bring in more cash. A JR executive told reporters that the seven accomplices were contract workers in their 20s, meaning their employment was not guaranteed. When questioned about why they agreed to participate in the scam, they said the accused, who was their supervisor, made it impossible to refuse. They knew it was wrong, but believed that if they didn’t obey his orders they’d lose their jobs. After five years they are given the opportunity to become regular employees, but if they don’t they aren’t rehired, since contract workers are limited to four rehirings. One of the seven stopped working for JR before the incident came to light.

After JNR went private in 1987 and the company was split into several regional railways, many older workers were laid off. Some sued and are still fighting to get their jobs back, but in any case JR West didn’t hire many new graduates in the subsequent decade, which means there is a wide age gap in the company’s ranks. At Akashi Station, for instance, eight of the 41 employees are in their late 40s and 50s, while the rest are in their 20s. Most of these younger employees are contract workers who have to renew their employment every year. The hourly wage is about ¥1,000 (following a three-month probation period during which they earn ¥890 an hour). JR didn’t reveal what the accused employee’s salary was, but according to Nenshu Lab, a wage research group, the average salary for a full-time JR West employee, regular or not, is ¥6.73 million. In 2005, however, the average salary was ¥7.24 million, which would seem to indicate that more contract workers have been hired as older workers retire.

A streetcar named beer

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

Tis the season to forget about the year with a mess of alcohol, so Kirin Holdings conducted a survey of salarymen to find out just how much they were willing to pay for a single bonenkai (end-of-year party). The limit, they found, was ¥4,690, which is less than what Kirin found last year, which was less than the year before, etc. Obviously, salarymen’s wallets are getting tighter, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to forsake their traditional December puke-fests.

The suds express

The suds express

Thus it was no surprise to learn that the Arakawa-sen’s “Toshi-wasure Beer-go” (Forget-the-year Beer Special) was booked up solid right away. The Arakawa-sen is the last of Tokyo’s streetcar lines, which runs from Minowa-bashi in Arakawa Ward to Waseda in Shinjuku Ward.

From Dec. 8 to 12 they are running a special “beer car” once a day at 7 p.m. (twice on the 12th). For ¥3,000 you get all the canned beer you can drink plus snacks. Reservations are limited to 20 persons, which is why there are no more spaces left, and the ride itself only goes as far as Otsuka Station, but it lasts two hours, presumably because it sits in a few stations to let the regular cars pass it by. Also, it should be noted that the cars have no toilets, so you have to wait until it stops at the Arakawa garage, where there’s a bathroom break.

Toei, which runs the streetcar (as well as the Toei subway line and city bus system), says that it set up the Biiru-go to help people forget not only the year but also “the recession.” In a way, it makes perfect sense for the line, colloquially called toden, to offer such a service. It’s probably the cheapest mode of transportation in Tokyo — ¥160 anywhere. Also, it’s the oldest. The municipal lines started in 1878 at horse-drawn carts that changed to light rails by the turn of the 19th century. In their heyday, streetcars were everywhere in Tokyo, but except for the Arakawa line, they had all shut down by 1972. So in addition to getting a buzz on, you can enjoy a piece of old time Tokyo — at old time Tokyo prices. But you’ll have to wait until next year.

Mystery train

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

The view west from Shin Kamagaya Station

The view west from Shin Kamagaya Station

The most expensive railway in Japan is the Hokuso Line, which runs for a mere 32.3 km between the Keisei Takasago Station in eastern Tokyo and the Inba Nihon Idai Station in Chiba Prefecture. If you travel from one end of the line to the other it takes 34 minutes and costs ¥870, which comes out to about ¥27 per kilometer.

Of course, many factors go into determining train fares and most of them have to do with the local situation. The main factor is demand, which is why you usually find higher fares in the deep countryside, where the sparse population can’t always support regular railway service. However, the Hokuso Line connects a fairly well-populated section of western Chiba to the capital via the Keisei and Keikyu railways, so why is it so much more expensive that other lines in the area?

Continue reading about the Hokuso Line →

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