The Mainichi answers some common questions readers may have about the increasing number of unmanned train stations in Japan, and rising concerns for passengers with disabilities.
Question: Is it true that stations without workers on hand throughout the day are growing in number?
Answer: That is true. A nationwide survey of railroad companies by the Japanese government revealed that there were 4,564 stations operating without staff members as of the end of March. Unmanned stations apparently have increased by some 10% in the last 20 years. Since there are 9,465 train stations in Japan, it means that about half of them don't have workers.
At least 70% of stations in 14 prefectures including Hokkaido and Kochi are unmanned, and the smaller the population, the more dire the situation. But 26 stations in Japan with over 10,000 passengers daily do not have staffers either. Unmanned stations are spreading nationwide, including in urban areas.
Q: Will there be more of such stations in the future?
A: Perhaps. Business performance among railroad companies is worsening as the number of train users drops in tandem with Japan's population decline. There are even stations that only have workers during the day.
Q: Wouldn't it be difficult for disabled passengers who need help from staff members to use unmanned stations?
A: People using wheelchairs need a ramp to be placed between the platform and the train. In most cases, wheelchair users need to notify railroad companies at least a day ahead of using the station. If they have to use the train for urgent business, they will have to wait for an employee to come for assistance. People with visual impairments have to get on and off trains on their own, which comes with a risk of falling off the platform.
Q: Isn't there a better way to lower the risk?
A: The Japanese government set up a study panel with railroad companies and organizations for people with disabilities in November, and began to seriously consider how to tackle the issue of unmanned stations. It is planning to formulate guidelines by summer 2021 stipulating how railroad companies should address the issue.
(Japanese original by Yoshitaka Yamamoto, City News Department)