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Bus Ticket Prices in Kyoto to Increase for Tourists?

Bus Ticket Prices in Kyoto to Increase for Tourists?

Compared to other major cities in Japan, Kyoto has fewer train services. With no train lines passing through the city center and only two subway lines, taking the bus is often the only option for public transportation if you want to go somewhere in Kyoto.

However, that option may soon become more expensive for many people as the Kyoto city government is currently seeking permission to start charging higher prices to tourists than local residents for using city buses.

There seem to be two somewhat contradictory goals for this plan. In an interview with Kansai TV Japan, Kyoto Mayor Daisaku Kadokawa stated that the main objective of the proposal is to reduce the density of city buses in Kyoto. "We want to improve the comfort level for both residents' lifestyle and walking," said Kadokawa. "Raising prices [for tourists] is not the goal itself, but rather how to deal with the population density, and this is one way to do it." When asked, "Is the goal to get more money from tourists?" Kadokawa replied, "Not at all."

However, in its documents outlining the proposal, the Kyoto City Transportation Bureau cited a 14.2 percent decrease in Kyoto city bus passengers since the beginning of the pandemic and having operated in the red zone for the past three years, among its justifications for introducing higher bus fares for tourists, as shown in the video below.

On its own, raising fares would seemingly further reduce the number of passengers, but it appears that the Kyoto City Transportation Bureau feels it will be able to balance, in terms of revenue, with the increasing number of tourists overall as Japan moves towards a post-pandemic environment. The proposal follows the announcement last March that Kyoto will discontinue the sale of unlimited one-day bus tickets, which has been popular among tourists for years.

It should be noted that the revised system will not only charge higher prices for tourists visiting Japan from abroad but also for Japanese citizens/residents visiting from other cities in Japan. Even people living in other parts of Kyoto Prefecture will be subject to higher fares, as the proposal divides riders into two groups, Kyoto City residents, and tourists.

Regarding how the new pricing system will be implemented, one idea being discussed by the bureau is a special cashless payment IC card for residents, related to the My Number ID card issued by the government tied to the cardholder's home address, which will charge lower fees than both fares. Others point to specific vehicles in the fleet as "tourist buses," which would charge higher fares to all passengers, although it is unclear whether this would deter tourists from taking non-tourist buses and paying lower fares.

However, the potential biggest hurdle for the plan is that under current laws, bus networks are prohibited from "unreasonable or unfair fare differences." It is unclear whether additional charges for tourists for public transportation would fall into that category, so the Kyoto government has submitted its proposal to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism of the national government to seek clarification on whether a two-tier pricing system will be legally allowed.

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