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Economy

Population surge brings commuter pain to Tokyo waterfront

Rising land prices point to even bigger increases in coming years

Commuters fill up the sidewalk near Tokyo's Kachidoki subway stop.

TOKYO -- The population in Tokyo's waterfront areas has ballooned in recent years and is only expected to keep climbing after the 2020 Olympics, ratcheting up pressure on the local government to expand its already crowded public transit system.

At around 8:30 one March morning, the subway platform at Tokyo's Kachidoki Station was completely filled with locals boarding trains and disembarking passengers heading to nearby offices. The sidewalk at an intersection above the station was also packed, with some even walking on the edge of the road.

A 48-year-old man who has lived in the neighborhood for two decades leaves home every day around 7 a.m. to avoid the rush. "The platform is narrow, and it feels unsafe during rush hour," he said. "There used to be less people and more space."

"You have to squeeze to walk on the platform," said a 75-year-old woman who runs a bakery nearby. "I've had some scary experiences."

The station served an average of about 98,000 passengers a day in fiscal 2015 -- or roughly 40% more than 10 years earlier. It is the fourth-busiest on the 38-stop Oedo subway line, and the busiest among stations with no transfers. In an effort to ease congestion and eliminate safety concerns, Tokyo's Bureau of Transportation is expanding the platform and building new entrances.

Toyosu Station on the Yurakucho line has also experienced a roughly 40% passenger surge, over the five years through fiscal 2015.

High-rise condominiums are sprouting up on the waterfront of Tokyo's Chuo and Koto wards, just a stone's throw away from downtown. The population of Chuo Ward surpassed 150,000 in January for the first time in 55 years, while Koto Ward topped the 500,000 mark back in 2015.

The appraised value of plots in Chuo Ward's Kachidoki area was 5.3% to 6.8% higher on Jan. 1 than a year earlier. Appraisals had climbed 3.9% to 7.9% in Koto Ward's Toyosu area. Chuo Ward will host the Olympic village for the 2020 Games, which will then be turned into housing. The population in these areas is only expected to grow.

But transportation systems have not caught up. Rail service is lacking there compared with the very heart of Tokyo, and few major roads connect the two wards with downtown. A new road was supposed to partially open last year between downtown and Toyosu, the planned relocation site of the iconic Tsukiji fish market. But the market's move has been delayed, impacting the road's completion as well.

"There's a lot of traffic on roads to the center of Tokyo," said a 41-year-old who drives to work from his home in Harumi, Chuo Ward.

The Tokyo government was planning to launch a bus rapid transit system in fiscal 2019 using a reserved lane on the new Toyosu road. But it will be forced to revisit those plans.

"Given that the population is expected to continue growing after the Olympics, we face an urgent need to build more public transportation," said Hirohito Kuse, a professor at Japan's Ryutsu Keizai University.

(Nikkei)

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