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Okinawa bus companies fight for survival

Date Posted: 2003-12-18

Bus operators throughout the nation are facing an increasingly difficult business environment as the number of passengers using buses is declining steeply. That’s the finding of a survey conducted by the Ministry of Transportation. In Okinawa, bus companies are in especially bad shape. The four bus companies here are privately owned. Three of the four are in bankruptcy and sometimes unable even to pay their workers’ salaries or retirement money. Only one, Okinawa Bus Co. is considered relatively healthy.

According to Okinawa Prefecture General Bureau, the main reason for the sorry state of affairs is that Okinawan bus operators do not have any other businesses to support their bus operations. “Bus companies in the mainland are generally parts of bigger, diversified business enterprises. Besides bus routes, they operate real estate, hotels, shopping centers, taxis, cargo businesses and so on, and they can rely to those other operations to turn a profit,” a bureau spokesman said.

He explained that that is not the case in Okinawa. “The bus companies in Okinawa have no place to turn to when the number of passengers declines. The population in Okinawa is too small, and besides, Okinawan people rely on private cars. An average family here has two cars or even more, but that’s not the case in mainland,” the spokesman said.

“Only Okinawa Bus Co. is operating in the black, but then they have parking lots, real estate, office rental and other businesses that keep them afloat,” the spokesman explained. Bus companies’ management claim that vigilant unions in the 70’s pushed the workers salaries too high, and that sapped the financial strength of the companies. However, the General Bureau spokesman disputes the claim. “Okinawan bus drivers currently earn only 65 to 70 percent of what their counterparts in mainland get. It was the responsibility of the president and directors of the companies to watch the financial health of their companies. Now I’m afraid it’s too late,” he said.

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