Predicting Japan's Transportation Situation Beyond 2030
06 Nov 2023

Predicting Japan's Transportation Situation Beyond 2030

Many people who use trains like the Yamanote Line or the Chuo Line might be familiar with this, but there are many lines that run above the trains. A few years ago, when I traveled to Nagano on the Chuo Line, the train stopped for about an hour due to a fallen tree accident. Several trees had fallen onto the tracks, causing an electrical system malfunction on the lines above.

I've been pondering this issue for a long time, especially because I was deeply affected by the Hibiya Line derailment accident when I was in elementary school. That incident left me with a vague sense of unease, realizing that if something goes wrong in subway or similar systems, it can lead to a major disaster.

To prevent such incidents, it's necessary to invest substantial resources and manpower daily to operate trains safely. How these challenges will evolve as we approach 2030 is a critical question to address.

Local trains may be replaced by buses with advanced reservation features.

Deficit-ridden local train routes are likely to gradually disappear in the future, with buses equipped with advanced reservation features taking on the role of supporting local transportation.

I've always wondered, "Why are bus stops fixed in place?" It often happens in rural areas that a bus, with only a few passengers on board, stops at a bus stop quite far from where those passengers live, and they have to walk for about three minutes from the bus stop to their homes. If there are only three passengers, wouldn't it be more convenient for the bus to go directly to their homes? The reason it's not possible is that the bus transportation network is pre-determined.

In the future, artificial intelligence is likely to identify the number of passengers and their destinations, instantly determining the optimal route. In Japan, where the aging population is advancing, the automation of bus services through AI will be a significant turning point and is likely to revolutionize various services from the ground up.

In rural areas, buses are closely linked to people's lifestyles. In my hometown of Iwate, buses are indeed a lifeline. Even those who have a driver's license often choose buses as they age, instead of using their private cars. This trend will continue to support the demand for buses.

There may be passengers who feel stressed when buses take different routes. They might think, "It might be slower than usual!" However, making sure that even with different routes, they still arrive at roughly the same time is probably what artificial intelligence will achieve.

As the subway system develops, underground cities thrive.

Regardless of the cost considerations, as a general trend, Tokyo's underground cities are likely to become even larger and deeper.

Have you ever thought on a cold winter day, "Oh, it's so cold. I wish I didn't have to endure this if I were in the subway?"

Subways offer the advantage of relatively low stress while waiting on the platform. However, there's another significant point to consider, which is the direct connection of subways to underground cities.

These underground cities have an interesting characteristic. The fact that Shinjuku and Shinjuku Sanchome are connected illustrates this concept. By creating underground cities centered around one station and then creating underground cities at neighboring stations, a day will come when roads connecting them will form, leading to the creation of massive underground cities.

Currently, offices are mainly located above ground, but eventually, they may expand into the underground. While it's essential to get some sunshine for a pleasant feeling, once you're inside the office, you're essentially under fluorescent lights, whether above or below ground. Therefore, it wouldn't be surprising if we see offices in underground cities in the future.

Autonomous driving promotes redevelopment.

The enemies of autonomous driving are winding roads, narrow streets, and blind corners with limited visibility. Without addressing these three challenges, achieving full vehicle automation will be difficult.

Areas like Marunouchi and Nishi-Shinjuku naturally clear these obstacles, but in downtown neighborhoods, it becomes considerably challenging. Even if the city blocks are rectangular, there are many narrow streets and tricky blind corners that make it difficult to ensure safety on both sides.

For these reasons, large-scale redevelopment becomes necessary. However, redevelopment can sometimes disrupt the existing urban culture, so it cannot be pushed forward unilaterally. Nevertheless, it is likely to be encouraged as we move towards 2030. This is not only due to the advancement of autonomous driving but also other reasons such as aging water pipes, underground utility pole installation, and the increasing number of vacant houses.


Cars come with ownership costs, while trains require maintenance costs. The next generation of transportation should not be something individuals own, and it should also be cost-effective to maintain.

Meeting both of these criteria leads us to buses. When you think about it, the current distribution system relies on trucks at its endpoint. Trucks are vehicles that transport goods simultaneously. They have become closely linked with retailers like Amazon, significantly altering our lifestyles.

It's worth noting that trucks have only recently become such a central part of the economy. Companies like Yamato (a major Japanese delivery company) didn't exist a hundred years ago. In the future, large vehicles designed to transport people, namely buses, are likely to become the new center of the economy. This transformation is expected to start in aging rural areas and gradually make its way to Tokyo.