Posts Tagged ‘Transport Ministry’

Court says railway can make patrons pay through the nose

Friday, March 29th, 2013

Inzai Makinohara Station

Inzai Makinohara Station

We live on the Hokuso Line, which connects Takasago in eastern Tokyo to the Nihon University Medical Center in northern Chiba, a distance of 32.3 kilometers. The Hokuso Line has been called the most expensive train line in Japan. From one end to the other it costs ¥780, and for us to get from our station, Inzai Makinohara, to its neighbor to the west, Chiba New Town Chuo, it costs ¥290. Many people who live on the line and use it have complained to the relevant authorities and demanded that fares be reduced. In fact, five local residents sued the central government, demanding that the court rescind the state’s approval of the Hokuso Railway’s plan to lease its tracks to another railway company and claiming that the plan did not benefit users. On Mar. 26 the Tokyo District Court rejected the suit, saying that the government authorization did not damage the welfare of the railway’s users in any way.

The plaintiffs said they didn’t understand the judge’s reasoning. One, a 19-year-old man, told an Asahi Shimbun reporter that when he was a high school student he spent ¥90,000 on a six-month pass, which, on average, is about four times what it costs for a comparable student pass on any other line. Now that he’s graduated and going to a prep school he no longer qualifies for the student discount, and has to pay ¥170,000 for half-a-year. Single-station fares on the Hokuso are about twice as much as they are on other lines. The Hokuso Line is part of the Keisei Dentetsu Group, whose average fare for 32 kilometers is about ¥470, so the Hokuso fares are 70 percent higher than fares on other lines even within the same railway group. The reason for the high fares has been explained in this blog before, but in a nutshell, the line was designed to serve the Chiba New Town development project, which began in 1969. Planners envisioned 340,000 people eventually moving into the New Town area, which encompasses portions of three cities, but in the end only about 93,000 actually did. The main problem for the Hokuso Railway Co. was the cost of construction, in particular the cost of land. Purchases were made at the height of the bubble era, when land prices were sky high and so were interest rates. The debt currently stands at ¥90 billion, and the railway pays ¥5 billion on the note every year. But the Chiba New Town authority, which the railway belongs to, also has to pay shareholders, many of whom are farmers who sold it the land in the first place. You can see their huge houses, built with the money they made and are still making, all over the region that lies alongside the Hokuso Line. Since opening for business in 1991, the railway has raised its fares nine times, though it also cut a few, but only by ¥10.

The kernel of the court case is a leasing deal that the Hokuso Line made with Keisei Dentetsu, which wanted to use the Hokuso tracks for its Skyliner and Sky Access express trains to Narita Airport. Regular users of the Hokuso Line were under the impression that (more…)

Budget airline determined to give passengers their money’s worth

Monday, June 18th, 2012

As more and more airlines struggle with fluctuating fuel costs, labor disputes and competition that puts downward pressure on fares, they cut wherever they can, and for passengers the clearest sign of this trend is the loss of services once considered standard. It started with charging for drinks and meals on shorter flights, then charging for a second checked bag or even the first. Ireland’s premier budget carrier Ryanair has taken these cost-cutting measures to almost laughable extremes.

Skymark home page

Japanese carriers have always had the highest reputation for service, which is one of the reasons Japanese fliers remained faithful for so long and paid extra for those services. The JAL bankruptcy proved that this was no longer the case, and in recent years Japanese airlines have had to genuinely compete with others for customers, even Japanese customers. Now budget Japanese carriers have softened service, and some think that one of the pioneers, Skymark, has gone too far.

Earlier this month the media covered the airline’s “service concept,” which, in practical terms, doesn’t really make a huge difference in a passenger’s in-flight experience. However, the way it was presented seemed geared to offend. According to the Asahi Shimbun’s reports, the “instructions,” printed on B5-size pieces of paper and inserted in seat pockets on aircraft starting May 18, state that flight attendants are not obligated to “help passengers stow luggage on board the aircraft,” meaning that passengers are totally responsible for their own bags. More to the point, the instructions also state that attendants and other staff do not have to “use the polite language that airlines conventionally use.” And except for the company-issued polo shirts and windbreakers, staff can dress or make up any way they want.

After the media made a big deal of the service concept, Skymark announced that it did not constitute any sort of change but was a “clarification” of policies already in effect. The transportation ministry was mainly concerned with the “tone” of the clarification, which seemed to be a “challenge to” rather than a “violation of” existing regulations. In particular, the ministry was concerned that Skymark’s refusal to “accept complaints” from passengers on matters that “don’t directly affect customers” might cause problems.

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