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Gov't, railway companies to loosen rules about mobility scooters on trains

In this Dec. 5, 2016 file photo, Masaru Yamana is seen riding his mobility scooter through the ticket gates at JR Shin-Osaka Station in Osaka. (Mainichi)

In preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism and railway companies nationwide have decided to loosen restrictions on the use of mobility scooters on trains.

In Japan, mobility scooters, or electric-powered wheelchairs that are configured with a front handle like a scooter, are also called "senior cars" and are mostly used by elderly people who do not have full use of their lower body. The association for the promulgation of electric-powered wheelchair safety reported that in fiscal 2015, its member companies shipped a total of 19,449 electric-powered wheelchairs, with mobility scooters making up 70 percent of that total at 13,610 vehicles.

While the number of mobility scooters is high, the current rule set by railway companies is that only those who are leasing or have received money to buy a mobility scooter under the law for comprehensive service and support for disabled persons or the Long-Term Care Insurance Act may use them in the railway system.

As a result, Japanese who have not received the scooters under domestic laws and foreign visitors to Japan are unable to ride trains -- a situation that is expected to cause chaos during the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games. In response, the transport ministry and railway companies decided in March to do away with the restriction and revise the rules this year.

Masaru Yamana, 74, a consultant for persons with disabilities in Osaka's Chuo Ward and user of a mobility scooter, praised the decision, saying, "Having the rule in the first place wasn't normal. Finally we are catching up with standards around the world."

However, use of some larger mobility scooters on Shinkansen bullet trains and other trains equipped with common spaces between passenger seating compartments, is still restricted due to safety concerns posed by the narrow spaces.

According to the Central Japan Railway Co., even on Tokaido Shinkansen Line bullet trains that allow mobility scooters, due to their large size compared to regular wheelchairs, they request that scooter users do not use the wheelchair seating, but instead use the multipurpose room. Each train is equipped with only one multipurpose room, and it must be reserved at least two days in advance.

"In implementing the new rules, I would like (railway companies) to also increase the amount of space for mobility scooters on trains," Yamana said.

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