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Tokyo begins trial to ease traffic jams during 2020 Games

A sign on a desk in one of the departments at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building reads, "I will be in the office after working remotely," in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward, on July 22, 2019. (Mainichi/Tatsuro Tamaki)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Central and local governments as well as companies in Tokyo began Monday a trial to help ease traffic jams and railway congestion during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, by using telecommuting and staggered working hours.

During the trial, which runs through Sept. 6, the state and the Tokyo metropolitan government will evaluate how effective the measures are that also include restricting traffic on expressways and offering extra train services during early-morning hours to promote off-peak commuting.

Eight million people commute in the Tokyo metropolitan area each day, and the Olympic events are estimated to draw an additional 650,000 spectators and tourists to the area on peak days during the 2020 Summer Games between July 24 and Aug. 9, followed by the Paralympics from Aug. 25 to Sept. 6.

Four entrance gates to the Metropolitan Expressway near the athletes' village and competition venues will be closed from morning to night on Wednesday, exactly one year ahead of the Olympics kickoff, and Friday this week when high traffic volume is expected.

Railway companies in the Tokyo metropolitan area including East Japan Railway Co. and Tokyo Metro Co. operated extra train service early Monday morning and will offer the service for a few more days.

Olympics minister Shunichi Suzuki, who usually commutes by official car, took a subway Monday to the Cabinet Office.

"The train was empty and I felt comfortable," Suzuki told reporters after arriving at his office at 11:30 a.m. under the staggered working hour system. "We can't tell people not to use cars if government officials use official cars" for commuting, the minister added.

At the Tokyo metropolitan government office, each of about 2,800 employees, who were given laptops, will work outside the office at least once a week during the trial periods from Monday to Aug. 2, and from Aug. 19 to 30.

On Wednesday, which will mark 365 days until the start of the Olympics, and three other days during the trial periods, the employees will work from home or someplace other than their offices.

During these four days, the Tokyo government expects to see only one third of the some 10,000 workers in its main building commute to the office.

The metropolitan government will urge its officials to avoid the use of public transportation during peak commuting hours between 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.

During the trial, personnel are being urged to bring their own water bottles and lunch boxes, to reduce the amount of trash being generated, which they hope will cut down the number of garbage trucks out on the roads. They are also urging employees to reduce the use of office supplies, which should also cut down on the need for deliveries.

At 8:30 a.m. Monday, there were only a few workers at the human resources department of the Tokyo metropolitan government, which usually has around 130 employees.

"I spent more time in the morning with my 18-month-old daughter, and the train ride was comfortable," said a 33-year-old male official who arrived at the office at 11 a.m.

Central government bodies will also implement steps such as telecommuting and staggered work shifts and urge officials to take days off during the period between Monday and Aug. 2, covering up to 20,000 personnel -- roughly half the total workforce.

Some private companies plan to allow their employees to work from home, while delivery businesses will review their routes and ship items early in the morning or at night to skirt traffic jams.

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