If this tactic fails, drivers may even consider letting people cross the white line while the bus is in motion.

Bus drivers in Okayama working with Ryobi Group have taken to the streets in an unusual form of protest. While technically on strike, they are continuing to drive their routes while refusing to take fares from passengers.

▼ Image shows a white blanket over the fare machine.


A new rival bus line Megurin began operating on 27 April with some routes overlapping those of Ryobi and offering a cheaper fare. If that all wasn’t bad enough, Megurin buses have cute little faces too.

As a result, Ryobi drivers are feeling threatened and are asking management for improvements to their job security under the added competition. It would seem Ryobi was less than enthusiastic to accommodate and a strike was declared.

In cases such as this, management may use the labor stoppage against the drivers, appealing to the public that they are putting their own needs before the community’s. So to show that isn’t the case, Ryobi drivers are continuing to clock in, but without performing the part of their job that requires them to accept payment during certain times. In other words, free bus rides for all!

▼ The free-fare protest happened at the same time as Megurin’s maiden voyage.

This isn’t the first time such a strike has occurred in Japan or around the world. Both Brisbane and Sydney held fare-free days as part of labor disputes last year. The earliest documented case of a “fare strike” goes back a protest by Cleveland streetcar workers in 1944, and similar cases involving other services have happened in Europe and Latin America prior to that.

Readers of the news were somewhat divided about the concept, with many wondering if it was really in the workers’ best interests.

“This isn’t good at all. They’re working for free?!”
“I think stopping the buses altogether would put more pressure on management.”
“The idea is neat, but I think the money saved from wages and the value of free advertisement this action is creating means the company is still doing okay.”
“This is a great idea, I like that they are trying different ways to get what they want.”
“How cool is that?”
“I heard they do this in Australia and it worked out really well!”
“I think it is a good way to protect the company image in the long run, but I wonder how this affects both sides’ bargaining positions.”

There are a lot of factors that will affect the outcome of this labor dispute, but it is an interesting experiment to see how such a strike will work in Japanese business culture among management, workers, and passengers.

Considering that Ryobi drivers are looking for job security while up against a cheaper bus company, protecting their image and relationship with their passengers is crucial. So it probably is a wise move for everyone involved.

▼ If you’d like to experience a nine-minute fare-free Ryobi bus ride from the
comfort of your very own home, here you go! Don’t say I never give you anything.

I would love to see such a trend catch on in other industries too. Wouldn’t it be nice if theater staff just let you walk into movies? 7-Eleven clerks just smiled as you walk out with a bag of chips? Or if those poor exploited vending machine fillers decide to set the price of all drinks in Tokyo Station to ten yen?

Source: Sankei News, Twitter/@mipourako, Hachima Kiko
Top image: YouTube/Wasshoi Okayama