Transportation bureau wants to collect full fares while still making the ride pleasant for all passengers.

As Kyoto’s inbound foreign tourist numbers continue to grow, there’s been a lot of talk about overcrowding on its city buses, since many routes have stops at both major sightseeing attractions and places locals need to get to as part of their daily lives. Now, though, Kyoto is dealing with another problem involving foreign travelers on its buses: some of them aren’t paying their fares.

It doesn’t appear that visitors from overseas are intentionally trying to skip out on paying for their rides, though. Instead, the causes seem to be an unfamiliarity with how the payment system works and a language barrier when trying to resolve on-the-spot issues.

On buses in downtown Kyoto, passengers board through the door at the back of the bus, then make their payment at the front as they exit, with the most common way to pay being tapping a prepaid IC card, such as Suica, on a terminal next to the driver’s seat. Since the buses charge a flat, per-ride fare in the downtown area, you don’t have to tap the card when you get on, just once when you get off.

▼ A payment terminal or box next to the driver, like the one shown here, is the norm on buses in Japan.

But while this one-tap format is convenient, it means that it’s possible to board the bus without having enough money charged on your card to actually pay for the fare when it’s time to get off. If you tap to make a payment with a card that doesn’t have sufficient funds, an error alert will sound. However, according to the Kyoto City Transportation Bureau, they’ve had multiple reports from bus operators of foreign tourists who either don’t notice the error sound, sometimes because they’ve got earphones in, or who don’t understand what it means. These travelers then sometimes hop off the bus, mistakenly thinking they’ve paid their fare when they actually haven’t.

When the insufficient fund error is triggered, the passenger is supposed to pay the driver in cash. However, in the case of foreign travelers who don’t speak Japanese, Kyoto bus drivers have reported difficulty in explaining the requirement, even when they’re able to indicate that something has gone wrong before the foreign passenger exits the vehicle. According to the Transportation Bureau, sometimes drivers have had no choice but to give up and just let tourists get off with a free ride, in order to avoid delaying the bus any longer.

To alleviate the problem, the Transportation Bureau has created new explanation sheets and provided them to bus operators. The sheets outline the payment procedure in multiple languages, including English and Chinese, which the bureau hopes will allow bus operators to more clearly communicate the requirements without any unnecessary stress for the driver or passenger.

Another idea that’s been floated is having passengers board from the front of the bus and make their payment at the start of their ride, then exit from the rear. However, the bureau says that implementing this would require costly reconfigurations of existing bus station/bus stop layouts, and so they’re going with the explanatory sheets for now.

While the sheets are a smart way to help resolve problems when they occur, as a traveler it’s still probably best to do what you can to prevent them from occurring in the first place, which in this case means making an effort to keep your IC card charged up with enough cash to cover your ride before you get on (the same IC cards can be used for buses, trains, and subways, so they’re easy to top up at any station). The Transportation Bureau has also said they’ve encountered problems with foreign tourists who, in addition to not having sufficient funds on their IC card, only have a credit card or foreign currency on them, neither of which can be used to pay bus fares, so keeping at least some yen on you at all times is a smart idea.

And if, even with your fares all sorted, you’re finding Kyoto’s buses just too crowded for your tastes, we’ve got a lot of no-bus walking courses that’ll take you to the city’s major sights mapped out right here.

Source: NHK News Web
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert image: Pakutaso (edited by SoraNews24)
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