The Advocate-Messenger from Danville, Kentucky on April 27, 2000 · Page 8
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The Advocate-Messenger from Danville, Kentucky · Page 8

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Danville, Kentucky
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Thursday, April 27, 2000
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A8 THE ADVOCATE-MESSENGER, THURSDAY, APRIL 27, 2000 AdvocateWorld Tokyo commuters breathe easier By GARY SCHAEFER Associated Press Writer TOKYO (AP) Twenty-five years ago. Tokyo's blue-suited corporate warriors took three things for granted: a job for life, a fat bonus in December and a hellish commute every morning. Today, the promise of lifetime employment has been replaced by the threat of downsizing, and those bonuses have gotten a lot leaner. But. while commutes can still be murder, at least the trains aren't as crowded as they used to be and might even become almost comfortable in the not-too-distant future. "We used to have to pull back the passengers who couldn't squeeze their way in." said Makoto Egashira. general manager of marketing at East Japan Railway Co. "Now we can push them all in." Back in 197.5. white-gloved platform attendants stuffed the typical Tokyo rush-hour train so full that the number of passengers averaged 221 percent of the designed capacity. That average has dropped to 183 percent, and commuters who once struggled to breathe can now manage to read a tightly folded "newspaper. Japan's prolonged economic slump is a factor. After increasing for decades, the number of commuter train passengers has fallen over the last nine years, in part because there are fewer jobs to commute to. Most of the credit' for the reduced crowding, however. How overcrowded can it get? By The Associated Press Descriptions by Japan's Transportation Ministry of What happens when commuter trains are filled beyond capacity: 100 PERCENT Every seat filled, every strap held, every pole held. Comfortable ride for all passengers. 150 PERCENT Shoulders brush. Riders can open newspaper. 180 PERCENT Body-to-body contact the rule. Commuters can read carefully folded newspaper. 200 PERCENT Squeeze is on.;Newspapers are out, but riders can still manage to read smallrformat magazines. 250 PERCENT Body movement impossible, arms pinned. Passengers unable to maintain balance as train rocks. WHERE TO AVOID Tokyo's most crowded rush hour on Yamanote Line, 28-sta-tion elevated line circling capital., College students work as part-time pushers at busiest stops, where overcrowding averages 237 percent of capacity. goes to the city's railroads and subways. Their efforts to build new lines and run more trains over old ones have increased the capacity of the metropolitan rail network by 60 percent since 197o. outstripping a 40 percent growth in passengers. But there is still a good deal of room for improvement. After touring the city's busiest rail terminal in January, Japan's minister of transportation said the experience made him "painfully aware" of the need for new efforts to ease the squeeze on the metropoli tan network's 23 million daily passengers. The next day, a government commission submitted a 15-year plan recommending the construction or improvement of 18 lines serving greater Tokyo's 34 million inhabitants. The proposed additions to the current 1.300-mile system would reduce average rush-hour crowding to 151 percent of capacity. That's about the same as Paris or London, meaning Tokvoites could look forward to brushing shoulders with their fellow passengers instead of trading elbows. The bad news is the report doesn't say who is supposed to pick up the $43 billion tab. And with demographers predicting that greater Tokyo's once-exploding population will increase just 4 percent by 2015, the city's railroads and subways are unenthusiastic about the idea of investing huge sums ' of money in new infrastructure. Teito Rapid Transit Authority. Tokyo's main subway operator, is already struggling to complete three new lines at a cost of as much as $267,000 a yard even though the number of its passengers has been flat the last five years. "Building new lines doesn't necessarily generate new demand." said Toshiaki Kogure, a manager at Teito's operating section. "Expansion is certainly nice for people who are already commuting by train, but that alone doesn't justify the costs." The capital's railroads and subways also know they can't count on the same level of financial support the government provided for construction projects in years past. Japan's efforts to spend its way out of recession have left the government with a heavier debt burden than any other industrialized country $5.49 trillion, or 130 percent of the gross national product. Less than half of the lines proposed by the government's previous 15-year blueprint are in operation today, and many of the projects proposed by the new plan will likely remain in limbo. For their part, Tokyo's railroads and subways are trying -f ft? : i if i AP Photo A white-gloved platform attendant pushes the back of a commuter at Tokyo's JR Akabane station. In 1975 a typical Tokyo rush-hour train was 221 percent full and now the average has dropped to 183. to persuade the public to stay off the train during rush hour. It's a policy East Japan Railway's Egashira calls "using smarts, not money." Incentives under consideration by the transit companies include discounts on commuter passes valid only during off-peak hours. And the government has started talking about tax breaks for companies that introduce flex-time work schedules. "The morning commute can be murderous," said Takahiro Suzuki, a 26-year-old graphic designer. "But with trains already coming every two minutes, it's hard to see things getting much better." Africa's first railroad creaks along with bloated staff, subsidies By HAMZA HENDAWI Associated Press Writer CAIRO. Egypt (AP) The document that gave Robert Stephenson and Co. of Liverpool. England, the contract to build Egypt's first railway in 1851 lies pristine inside a glass case at a Cairo museum. Not so the rail system that has grown to 3.125 miles of track and carries more than H00 million passengers a year. Weighted down by overstaffing. low fares and underinvestment, the first railroad in the Middle East and Africa has run at a loss for years. Its equipment is dilapidated and service poor The Egyptian Railway Authority is able to operate its 1,300 trains every day only through heavy state subsidies totaling S3.1 billion since 1 995. "Some businessmen may be eying the railways as a possible investment, but. politically it is not in the cards for the foreseeable future." said Olfat El-Tohamy. editor of the weekly investment newspaper Bourse. " Tarek Alouba, Egypt's country coordinator for the World Bank's International Finance Corporation, said there is clearly room for improvement. "We think there can be a number of things which the government can do to involve the private sector. One of these things is to concession out some departments or services to private operators." he said. Privatization, often the cure for moribund state enterprises, is a solution not without problems. For one. officials worry about the political repercussions of layoffs from the railroad's bloated staff of 75.000. ' For another, the government fears conversion to private ownership would result in higher fares, which could lead to a political backlash from riders accustomed to fares kept low by subsidies. "Railway services are not run for profit. They have a social dimension that the government wants to keep." said Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, deputy chairman of operations for the Railway Authority. With a quarter of the country's 64 million people living in poverty, the government keeps train fares low. In some cases, what students pay for weekly passvs on commuter trains covers only about 2 percent of the actual costs. A first-class, round-trip fare on a luxury, nonstop train over the 137 miles between Cairo and Alexandria runs 60 pounds, or a little over $17. thanks to a $23 subsidy. A third-class, one-way ticket on a night train between Egypt's two main cities is just 2.75 pounds, or less than SO cents. A wide range of people war veterans, police officers, judges, military personnel and journalists are entitled to further discounts, costing the Railway Authority millions of dollars more in lost revenues. What passengers get for their reduced fares is less than an inefficient service. Some trains chronically run late. Accidents kill or injure hundreds every year. The Railway Authority, which operates under the Transport Ministry, was allowed to raise fares in late 1999 for the first time in more than four years. But the increases of up to 15 percent did not gf far enough. "We were told by the government to balance our expenditure and revenues by the year 2002. but it is a tough task and we have to find ways to do so without raising fares," Abdullah, the operations executive, told The Associated Press at his office above Misr Station, located in one of the busiest and most chaotic parts of downtown Cairo. "In my personal opinion, we shall not be able to meet the deadline." he said. Investment projects started by the authority to generate income remain years from bringing in any revenue, hi' said. The projects include a commercial complex to replace a disused building owned by the authority in downtown Cairo and a shipping complex near the Cairo working class suburb of Imbaba. Politicians at various levels often intervene to prevent the authority from canceling service that proves a commercial failure, rail officials say. A recently built 425-mile industrial rail line linking the southern town of Qena, the Red Sea port of Safaga and Abu Tartour near the Ciulf of Suez cost $521 million. Instead of hauling cargo as intended, it was put to use ferrying Muslims heading to Saudi Arabia for the recent pilgrimage season. Monthly revenue has averaged only $725, while maintenance costs run into millions of dollars. Another commercial disaster is a recently completed rail link running the 62 miles between the Western Desert oases of Baris and al-Kharja. It brings a monthly income of 10 pounds $2.89. "We run this service now just to keep the sand off the tracks and discourage thieves from stealing the ties," Abdullah said. 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