The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism
Fare increase could cover barrier-free costs

According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, among rail stations with more than 3,000 daily users, 87 percent have done away with differences in levels, such as steps, and 84 percent have installed toilet facilities to assist those with physical challenges. By 2020, the government expects to complete work on all stations of similar size.

Up to now, construction costs for barrier-free facilities have been shared by the national government, local governments, and railway operators. But demand for barrier-free facilities is expected to grow, stretching the budgets of national and local governments. And railway operators are likely to face difficulty securing revenues in the long term due to Japan’s declining population. However, they will need to make major investments in new rolling stock, and, because the addition of barrier-free facilities cannot be directly linked to earnings, it will be difficult for railways to make such overhauls without some financial assistance.

Additional fees are being considered to offset costs, and, at the planning stage, the costs should be made public and the national government should periodically check revenues following the start of collection. Based on this system, if the targeted amount is met, the surcharge can be dropped to avoid overburdening passengers with additional fees.

One key concern was designing a system that will satisfy the passengers who shoulder the cost. In the mid-term report, more details will be needed to indicate how the burden can be apportioned in accordance with each station and railway line.

Another item tabbed for discussion was dissemination of technical matters to remedy the system for utilizing prepaid IC tickets, and complications are foreseen when it’s time to decide the final formula to be adopted.

Ministry of General Affairs and Communications
Reduction in NHK subscriber fees proposed

On February 9, the government set the 2018 budget for quasi-public broadcaster NHK. During the deliberations, Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Seiko Noda requested that the subscriber fee system be reviewed and a reduction in fees be considered.

It is standard practice for heads of the various ministries to issue their opinions at the time NHK’s budget is determined, and in this year’s case the subscriber fee was set within the terms of NHK’s three-year business plan. The plan is set to commence this year, but some veteran legislators have voiced skepticism, calling for it to be revised.

At the press conference that followed, Noda said, “With the rollover of the existing surplus and projected increases in revenues from 2019 onwards, we should once again review how the subscriber fee is applied, including the possibility of a reduction.”

According to NHK’s business plan, revenues from subscriber fees for 2020 are projected to reach ¥710 billion, an increase of about ¥20 billion compared with 2017. However, in addition to the start of 4K and 8K high-definition broadcasts, introduction of simulcasts of programs over the internet are being planned in 2019. An NHK executive explained that the huge costs of these rollouts prohibit any reduction in subscriber fees.

Private TV networks have issued strong criticism of NHK’s operational expansion, and the Information and Communications Bureau, part of Noda’s ministry, also expressed its displeasure with NHK, stating: “Where fair levels of subscriber fees and a range of operations are concerned, it is essential to obtain the understanding of citizens. To this end, we would like to see NHK accept our request that it provide a considerate explanation.”

NHK Chairman Ryoichi Ueda, meanwhile, remarked that his organization, for some time already, “had been contemplating” a cut in subscriber fees following the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Swatting down Noda’s proposal, veteran LDP legislator Jiro Kawasaki remarked, “A price reduction is a topic for future discussion, but not this year.” At best one can say that she is putting together an environment in which subscriber fees can be debated.

Keizaikai magazine