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Tokyo 2020 IOC coordination chair calls for traffic measures more considerate of locals

John Coates, chair of the Coordination for the Games of the XXXII Olympiad Tokyo 2020 at the International Olympic Committee, is seen in Chuo Ward, Tokyo, on May 22, 2019. (Mainichi/Emi Naito)

TOKYO -- John Coates, chair of the Coordination for the Games of the XXXII Olympiad Tokyo 2020 at the International Olympic Committee (IOC), visited the capital on May 22 to inspect preparations for the games and pursue further dialogue regarding road pricing plans to increase tolls on the Metropolitan Expressway here to reduce potential congestion.

While saying that he would observe the consideration process of measures to ease traffic, he said there could be other ways to solve the issue, "It may not be just road pricing," he said, adding that "all alternatives" needed to be considered. "If there is going to be a situation where the road pricing is to be implemented then we have to be very careful," he said. When asked about potential opposition to the scheme from the public, he replied that it was a factor for consideration. An additional charge of 1,000 yen per vehicle to enter the expressway during the games is currently under discussion.

The Metropolitan Expressway, also known as the "Shutoko," is expected to get crowded with additional use from athletes and those connected to the games. In a first for the Olympics, the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is investigating "road pricing" measures in the form of extra charges to ordinary citizens.

Aimed primarily at avoiding traffic build-ups in the expressway's Inner Circular Route and other routes inside the road, vehicles excluding those engaged in logistics or delivery would have to pay an additional uniform 1,000 yen fee, regardless of car class or distance traveled, to drive on the expressway during the games.

The government's current target is to reduce weekday traffic by 15% during the games. Other tactics to achieve this include encouraging people to work staggered hours, work from home or take vacation time. Measures such as getting delivery companies to change their distribution hours are also being pursued.

Trials of the new system will be carried out this year from July 22 to Aug. 2, and again from Aug. 19 to 30, excluding weekends, approximately a year before the Olympic and Paralympic Games respectively. If the number of cars on the road doesn't fall during the trial, a decision as to whether to proceed with the additional charges will be made by the end of the year.

Coates praised organizers here for their preparations up to now, saying "We are satisfied that they are taking tremendous steps to reduce traffic on roads to encourage people to work from home during the games." On this summer's dry-run of the expressway charges he said, "we'll have a better idea (of the road pricing scheme's effectiveness) after we get through these test events."

Potential additional measures have also been mentioned, such as those used at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, where organizers restricted the use of cars with even- or odd-numbered license plates depending on the day. A scheme like the 1996 Atlanta Games' lane system, where only vehicles carrying more than one person could travel on parts of the road has also been raised.

All of these initiatives would require investigations into implementation of specialized equipment and potential changes in the law. But while they could be introduced, Coates wants to see inclusive policies prioritizing ordinary citizens, saying "firstly you try and deal with it in a way that would not inconvenience the public."

(Japanese original by Kazuhiro Tahara and Tadashi Murakami, Sports News Department)

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