The number of public transportation users in Japan’s coastal and mountainous areas of regional cities is declining due to the penetration of automobiles and a population exodus to cities. In particular, between 400 and 500 scheduled bus service routes have been reduced or eliminated altogether every year since around 2014.
Maintaining Scheduled Bus Services in Mountainous Communities becoming more Challenging
The communities of Higashimera district and Nishimera Village in Saito City, both surrounded by mountains and forests in western Miyazaki Prefecture, have among the largest depopulation and aging population rates in the prefecture. Each year their population declines, while the ratio of elderly living there is around 40%. In these communities, scheduled bus services play an important role as a way for local residents, including the elderly, to get to the urban part of the city. Increasing productivity of routes with few passengers has become an extremely difficult issue for bus operator Miyazaki Kotsu Co., Ltd.
Meanwhile, when delivering TA-Q-BIN parcels to customers in these same communities from Saito City, the nearly 50km journey for TA-Q-BIN deliveries from Saito TA-Q-BIN Center took close to an hour and a half. When considering the return trip, Yamato Transport had to set the cutoff time for same-day customer parcel collection at 3:00pm for both communities, which has proven to be an inconvenience for customers.
Combined Passenger-Cargo Operations Utilizing Empty Space on Buses
To resolve this issue, Yamato Transport proposed combined passenger-cargo operations, whereby TA-Q-BIN parcels would be transported between Saito City and Nishimera Village aboard a scheduled bus service. This involved transporting a mixed cargo of bus passengers and TA-Q-BIN parcels by reducing a few passenger seats to make room for cargo space on a scheduled bus already servicing the area.
First, a Yamato Transport Sales Driver (SD) carries the parcels to be delivered to customers in both communities from the Saito TA-Q-BIN Center to the Miyazaki Kotsu Saito Bus Center, and then loads them onto the bus. These parcels are carried by the bus and then handed over to SD responsible for each community at bus stops along the way.
Benefits for Miyazki Kotsu, Yamato Transport and Local Residents
This initiative offers benefits to each of the three parties.
First, Miyazaki Kotsu is able to increase productivity of its scheduled bus service and generate a new income stream that will help to maintain its route network by transporting TA-Q-BIN parcels using otherwise empty space.
Next, Yamato Transport is able to extend the cutoff time for same-day parcel collection to 5:00pm because the SD for both communities no longer had to return to the Saito TA-Q-BIN Center, increasing the time spent locally. Also, Yamato Transport is able to reduce CO
Finally, local residents are able to access various facilities in the city including hospitals and supermarkets because the bus network is unchanged, which maintains and improves their living standard. In addition, this makes it possible to respond more flexibly to customer requests for changes in delivery times because the SDs can spend more time in both communities. Furthermore, at the time of delivery the SD can provide watch-over support for the elderly by reporting any changes in customers to the local government, which improves the lifestyle services of local residents.
Received the Minister of the Environment’s Prize at the 13th Eco Products Awards
In December 2016, our combined passenger-cargo operations for TA-Q-BIN transport using existing scheduled bus routes received the Minister of the Environment’s Prize at the 13th Eco Products Awards.
In addition to reducing CO2 emissions by switching from truck to scheduled bus transport on certain routes, we received strong praise for the wide reaching effectiveness of this service that goes beyond reducing environmental impacts to provide an added level of convenience closely in tune with the needs of rural communities.
Expanding Combined Passenger-Cargo Operations Nationwide
Yamato Transport currently offers combined passenger-cargo operations on three scheduled bus routes in Miyazaki Prefecture. In January 2017, Yamato Transport launched the first Cool TA-Q-BIN using this service in Japan between Saito City and Nishimera Village, which is being used to transport local specialty produce grown locally.
Also, currently we are working on other combined passenger-cargo operations with local governments and companies in other parts of Japan, including Hokkaido, Iwate, Kumamoto and Hyogo prefectures, in addition to Miyazaki Prefecture (as of June 2017). The Yamato Group is committed to using various angles to resolve issues and revitalize communities in mountainous regions where aging populations and depopulation is progressing.
Voice of Stakeholders
Offering Scheduled Bus Services that Contribute More to the Community
From the very beginning when I was presented with the proposal, I had a very positive attitude during the review process because there were many benefits in store for Yamato Transport, our company, and the local community. However, I was concerned that the loading of parcels could hinder scheduled bus operations.
In actuality, Yamato Transport provides the service in tune with our existing bus schedules, which means we can provide the same services to our customers as before. Since the start of services, customers have praised this novel approach as a good idea. Together with Yamato Transport, I have also taken a look at special packing materials for maintaining the freshness of products during extended transport for the launch of Cool TA-Q-BIN services.
I look forward to working with Yamato Transport on other new ventures in the future as a scheduled bus service operator that contributes to local communities.
High expectations for the future expansion of this service
Nishimera Village’s population is around 1,000, making it the smallest in the prefecture. In the future, this community will see its population become older and more and more people will rely on buses for making a trip to the supermarket or hospital located in urban areas. Given this, I believe it is important to maintain scheduled bus services for local community members. In addition, if more people find it difficult to go out shopping, there will also be a need for shopping support and other services.
I hear from businesses that ship fresh foods that the service is now more convenient because the final collection cutoff time for TA-Q-BIN has been extended. I expect this service to play a role in revitalizing our community once we see an increase in shipments of local specialty items such as citron, sweetfish and Nishimera salmon, among others.
Voice of an Employee
Deploying Our Know-how in Other Communities
The combined passenger-cargo operations launched first in Iwate Prefecture mainly involved transporting parcels between offices and sorting centers called bases where parcels arrive from inside and outside the prefecture. The service in Miyazaki Prefecture is different because it relies on combined passenger-cargo operations on bus routes to deliver parcels directly to the homes of customers.
We have been able to reduce the workload of SD by reducing travel time which had been around three hours round trip. The fact that we significantly extended the final collection time of the day also pleased our customers very much. We also launched Cool TA-Q-BIN combined passenger-cargo operations using refrigeration facilities, in order to increase volume of temperature-sensitive parcels, such as local specialty products. This is the first such service of its kind in Japan, and so I hope to share know-how for similar services in other communities in Japan.