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Tokyo holds test to ease highway traffic during Olympics

Tokyo conducts a large-scale highway test in an attempt to ensure smooth traffic during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics on July 24, 2019. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Tokyo conducted a large-scale highway test on Wednesday in an attempt to ensure smooth traffic during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

    Experts believe that traffic congestion will double during the Summer Games in the Tokyo metropolitan area, where at least eight million commute each day.

    The full-day test involving major highways in the capital and neighboring areas, which started at midnight, is aimed at finding ways to achieve a reduction of up to 30 percent in traffic during the quadrennial sporting event.

    It could cause considerable congestion during rush hours. The same test will be carried out on Friday, when traffic is heavier than normal.

    In the tests, 49 entry points to the Metropolitan Expressway and one on the Chuo Expressway will be closed in stages depending on congestion.

    Four entrance and exit points on the Metropolitan Expressway that lead to areas near event locations, including the New National Stadium and the athletes' village, will be closed throughout the day.

    The number of lanes at 11 major tollgates on the Metropolitan Expressway and other highways linked to it will be reduced, while green traffic signals will be of shorter duration at about 120 places on one of the major ring roads for half a day.

    An additional 650,000 spectators and tourists are expected to flow into the metropolitan area on peak days during the 2020 Olympics between July 24 and Aug. 9, followed by the Paralympics from Aug. 25 to Sept. 6, according to an estimate by Chuo University professor Azuma Taguchi.

    Officials are considering other measures. Besides calling on people to drive less, they are planning to implement a "road pricing" system that adjusts highway tolls depending on the time of day.

    Under the current plan, drivers on designated highways will have to pay an additional 1,000 yen ($9) between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. Those travelling through the capital between midnight and 4 a.m. will have the usual cost halved.

    A senior official at the transport ministry, while recognizing that the plan places a heavy burden on commuters, said, "We are most afraid of disturbances caused by heavy congestion."

    Other Olympic host cities have implemented restrictions, with private vehicles allowed on alternate days depending on whether license plates are odd or even. However, such a plan was not deemed viable for a city like Tokyo.

    Major railway and subway operators in the metropolitan area plan to extend operating hours during the games, while companies will be encouraged to adjust their distribution routes and have employees work from home.

    Toyota Motor Corp. said it will allow 1,600 of its Tokyo-based employees to telecommute during the Summer Games. Office equipment maker Ricoh Co. has said it will close its headquarters in the capital during the period.

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