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Ryukyu Bus Co Faces Tough Survival Choices

Date Posted: 2000-08-11

Managers at Okinawan bus companies are facing important decisions. For years, the number of passengers has declined while some of the most militant labor unions in any Okinawan industry has forced costs up by regularly going on strike whenever they felt that it was time to boost the wages of their members. When Ryukyu Bus Co. lost the contract to operate school buses for on-base DoD schools to a competitor from mainland who was able to offer the service at lower cost, eyes started to open. Losing what managers say was the only profitable operation the company had, is forcing the management and the unions alike to find new ideas and fast. The change of the mood can be seen in the fact that the unions called off the strikes they had initially scheduled for last weekend to demand that the company reverses the layoff of some 70 drivers and other workers. The company management says that that is the only choice if the company is to survive. Yukio Higa, one of the union bosses at the company, admits that both the union and the company face some tough choices. “Okinawan people seem to use buses less and less and instead opt to use their private cars. This raises the question whether regular bus routes are needed at all,” Higa said. He said that the first step is to identify who are the potential customers, and what should be done to attract them. He also sees tourists as a potentially large bus user group. “If bus companies go bankrupt, then tourism will also suffer,” he believes. “How we can better service tourists and other customers, and generate enough revenue to survive, that’s the big question,” he concludes.

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