Most commuters go to work and school on extremely congested railway systems between 8 and 9 o'clock on weekday mornings. This is because most companies start at 9 a.m. and schools at 8:30 a.m. Railway business operators and the Ministry of Transport have long advocated the introduction of off-peak commuting, in which companies adopt flex-time working hours or shift starting times outside of peak hours. However, Japanese society, which values conformity, has yet to embrace this concept. Since many companies place an emphasis on coordinating with their business associates and clients, off-peak commuting cannot be achieved unless government offices and major companies take the initiative in adopting such a system. This is why JR East, a major railway operator in the Tokyo metropolitan area, shifted its starting hour to 9:20 a.m. in 1997, when its headquarters were relocated to Shinjuku.
Easing commuter congestion
Major Japanese cities suffer from severe congestion of public transportation. In Japan, the degree of congestion is indicated by an index called the congestion rate. This represents the ratio of passenger capacity (for a railway or bus, the sum of seating and standing capacities) versus the actual number of passengers on board. The official capacity is 100%. At 150%, the shoulders of standing passengers may touch occasionally. At 180%, the bodies of standing passengers touch each other. At 200%, passengers are pushed against each other tightly. At 250%, they are packed so tightly they cannot move their limbs. In 1996, the congestion of railways in Tokyo was rated at 200%, and their target at the time was to ease the congestion to 180%. The long-term target has been set at 150%. Efforts have been made to boost the transportation capacity of the Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka areas since 1961.