TOKYO >> An increasing number of train cars are including “free spaces” that make room for baby strollers and wheelchairs. The change is part of a nationwide effort to create barrier-free spaces ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.
It also addresses the needs of increasing numbers of families whose children are enrolled at daycare centers and commute home with them.
The Toei Oedo Line, which runs through Tokyo, rolled out cars in July covered in images from the children’s series “Thomas & Friends,” which centers on a train.
Called “Childcare Support Spaces,” these were included in the third and sixth cars of three of the line’s 58 trains. To create the open spaces, some of the cars’ priority seats were removed.
A 36-year-old working mother who lives along the Oedo Line commutes on the train with her 9-year-old and 2-year-old children.
“Riding with my children is exhausting because I worry about them screaming and running around. Just having pictures of Thomas lets me relax because they draw the kids’ attention,” she said.
Free spaces on trains are becoming more common.
Since 2017, Seibu Railway Co. has cleared such spaces in a section of its trains on the Ikebukuro and Shinjuku lines.
Instead of providing seats, the fronts of these cars are equipped for securing wheelchairs, making it easier for wheelchair users to ride with their caregivers. Some cars even include toilets for people in wheelchairs.
In 2007, 16 major railway companies in the Tokyo-based Japan Private Railway Association had about 4,000 cars with spaces for wheelchairs and strollers. By 2017, the numbers had increased 60%, to about 6,500 cars.
Part of the growth is attributed to meeting the deadline of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics to establish safe conditions for riders with wheelchairs and strollers, even in crowded cars.
In addition, the upswing in companies opening daycare centers on site means more small children are riding trains. Company-run daycare centers nationwide increased from 871 in 2016 to 3,817 in 2018.
Free spaces on trains are expected to grow.
East Japan Railway Co. plans to include them on all its cars on the Yamanote Line in Tokyo by spring 2020.
Tokyo Metro Co. plans to introduce free spaces when cars are updated.