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Number of cars, traffic jams increasing in Okinawa

Date Posted: 2003-09-19

Traffic on Okinawan roads is getting more congested every year, even as the number of buses and taxis is decreasing. When Okinawa was reverted to Japan in 1972 there were 154,000 privately owned cars in the prefecture. Now, 31 years later, the number has swelled to 870,000 and is increasing. Currently two of every three families here own two cars, and many own more.

The number of rental cars is also increasing. Ten years ago there were 33 rent-a-car companies operating in Okinawa. Now they number more than 120. Over 2 million people rent a car annually in Okinawa. Gone are the days when tourists took a taxi for a day-long sightseeing tour. The trend now is for tourists to come in groups of three to five people and share the cost of renting the car for the duration of their stay.

Many planners believe that the main reason for the relatively large number of private cars in the prefecture is that there is no railroad network that would allow people to reach different parts of the island conveniently. Naha Monorail, the first rail line in the prefecture since the war, just got started six weeks ago, but many think that it is way too short and of limited use. People simply don’t want to walk beyond a couple of hundred meters in Okinawa’s hot weather but instead opt for the comfort of their air-conditioned cars. The problem is ever increasing traffic jams.

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