The Hokkaido Shinkansen - First Year Review
Now finished it's first year of operation, let's take a look at how the Hokkaido Shinkansen did and what it's future looks like!
In case you missed all of the news leading up to March 27, 2016, when the new bullet train started operation, the biggest news of summer 2015 was the announcement of the Hokkaido Shinkansen line going into construction. The new line now connects Hokkaido to Honshu and runs all the way down to Tokyo; adding new travel options between Hokkaido and Japan's main island, Honshu. The new JR Hokkaido line currently stops in Hakodate, but is undergoing an intensive construction schedule which will bring it through Kutchan Town and finishing up at Sapporo City by 2030. Once completed, it will open up new travel options for those looking to get to the Niseko area as they will be able to ride up from Tokyo to Kutchan Town or catch an express train from New Chitose Airport to Sapporo Station and then the bullet train to Kutchan Town.
First Year Review
The aggregated results of the first full year showed a range of positive statistics. The number of people that traveled along the new stretch of tracks totaled a whopping 2,292,000 people, which is 1.64 times the number of riders who had used the local and express lines in the year previous.
The numbers for daytime riders averaged out at about 6,300 commuters each day, which exceeded their original expectations of 5,000 daily riders.The biggest surprise came in evening riders, which nearly doubled their original expectations. Even with numbers higher than originally planned, the average car was only at about 32% occupancy; meaning there's still room for plenty more riders!
The shinkansen was expected to increase the number of travelers to Hokkaido and so far Hakodate City has been reporting positively on this front. It seems that the increase has led to construction plans for two new hotels to be built over the course of 2018 and 2019, just in front of Hakodate Station and Hakodate Hokuto Station. Tourist numbers at popular sightseeing destinations in Hakodate City are being reported much higher during peak travel times than in previous years and the increase is being attributed largely to the extension of the bullet train.
JR Hokkaido has also started to make moves to increase discounts and offers during less popular travel times to increase usage and are setting up reservation systems to enable overseas guests to book seats in advance around their travel plans. They are also looking to improve and expand their free Wi-Fi networks at all of the stations to make it more convenient for travelers who are relying on Wi-Fi hotspots.
Currently, most of the riders using the Hokkaido Shinkansen are riding the train for the purpose of sightseeing. There has been a slow increase in the number of business riders, but it has not picked up much as of yet. JR Hokkaido is looking to find ways to promote business travelers looking to get to Tokyo and to get local residents riding the train more. With the expansion heading out to Sapporo, this will likely increase local residential use and JR Hokkaido hopes to build an image around the slogan 'Four Hours to Tokyo" to help encourage business travelers to utilize the line a bit more.
There are still many questions up in the air, such as how to get buses and other transportation lines running between the current stations and popular tourist destinations like Niseko and Sapporo. This will be an item that many transportation and bus companies will be looking to address over the coming summer.