TOKYO -- Passenger volume among 16 Japanese rail companies not affiliated with the Japan Railways group exceeded 10 billion people last fiscal year for the first time in 22 years, with the flood of foreign tourists providing a major lift.
Total ridership came to 10.095 billion in the year ended in March, a 2.8% increase from fiscal 2014. The data covers nine companies operating in the Tokyo area, five in the Kansai region centering on Osaka, as well as Nagoya Railroad and Nishi-Nippon Railroad.
Ridership peaked in fiscal 1991 at 10.164 billion people, then touched a low of 9.071 billion in fiscal 2004. However, the number of passengers climbed for four straight years through fiscal 2015.
Driving the recent boom are passengers who do not use regular commuter passes, such as foreign tourists. That category of riders numbered 4.17 billion, up 3.1% from a year earlier.
For Keisei Electric Railway, ridership on limited express lines shot up 11% due to heavy use of the Keisei Skyliner connecting Narita Airport to Tokyo. Osaka-based Nankai Electric Railway saw passenger numbers jump 26.9% for services to and from Kansai Airport.
Tokyo Metro experienced a 24.5% jump in foreign tourist riders, many of whom were heading to Tokyo city center to sightsee, according to President Yoshimitsu Oku.
Ridership among those with regular commuter passes, such as people going to work or school, rose 2.7% to 5.925 billion. Redevelopment projects brought in workers. One Tokyo station near Futako Tamagawa Rise, a commercial and residential complex recently developed by Tokyu, saw 18% more riders.
Companies are also sharing lines. Tokyo Metro and Tokyu started linking five rail lines in 2013. Due to the change, passengers can travel from Yokohama to Saitama Prefecture without transferring. The line sharing is causing delays, however, a pressing concern that is currently being dealt with.