The organizers of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics are struggling to find enough large buses and drivers to transport athletes and related individuals for the Summer Games, officials familiar with the matter have said.
The Tokyo organizing committee believes it needs 2,000 buses a day at most for the arenas around the city, and at least twice that number of drivers.
(File photo taken in December 2013 in Sochi, Russia, shows some of the 2,000 buses that were used to transport athletes and staff for the Winter Olympics in the Russian city in February 2014.)
It is finding the task difficult as summer is already a typically busy season for bus companies. The committee has already requested cooperation from approximately 600 bus operators in Tokyo and its surrounding prefectures.
There are only 1,400 coaches in Tokyo or 5,000 in the area if the six nearby prefectures are included. The committee has expanded its search, holding information sessions with companies in the prefectures of Yamanashi and Shizuoka between fall in 2017 and early 2018. It even later requested travel agencies sponsoring the Summer Games to seek cooperation from bus companies.
Still, not only is the necessary number of buses high but summer is a demanding business season for bus operators, especially in the Tokyo area.
Bus operators are already busy with responding to tourist and leisure activities, school athletic competitions and class trips.
"Even in a typical year we reach 80 percent of our rate of operation," said an official at an association of bus companies in and around Tokyo.
The organizing committee is also aware that bus companies find it difficult to refuse their regular customers.
Through the education ministry, the committee last summer called for school activities needing buses to be held during a different period from the Olympics and Paralympics. But people in the bus industry have said they have not seen any significant effect.
The other concern is the lack of drivers. More drivers will be needed as each day has possibly three shifts. The industry already faces a shortage of bus drivers and has tightened standards on the number of their working hours, after a fatal bus accident in 2016 in the central Japanese prefecture of Nagano.
Since February this year, the organizing committee has begun laying out the terms and conditions for business agreements and is engaging in negotiations with bus operators.
It aims to conclude agreements by next spring by when they plan to have final bus schedules. Bus companies are seeking a decision as early as possible mindful that the contracts will affect their normal business operations.
At the time of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea last year, its organizers were forced to find last-minute transportation vehicles as initial estimates were too low.
Since venues of the Tokyo 2020 Games are dispersed across the capital, the organizers say an enormous number of buses will be necessary, compounded by the difficulty of figuring out bus schedules.
"Transportation will determine the success of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics," said an official with the organizing committee.