The Micro Economics Bicycle Commuting in Tokyo

Cycling to work in Tokyo may do more than just keep you healthy, fit and happy, it also may help you earn a little additional income on the side if our employer isn't smart enough to have a bike to work policy in place.

According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare 86% of Japanese employers pay the commuting fees of their employees, and as the majority of employees in Tokyo travel to work by train companies usually take the easiest route when it comes to payments and simply deposit the cost of of a monthly commuter pass into the accounts of their employees along with their wages each month.  Bicycle commuters, however, exist in a grey zone. As most companies have no policy surrounding bicycle commuting (other than often trying to ban employees from cycling to work) they continue to deposit commuting allowances into the accounts of those who choose to cycle to work.

So by cycling to work in Japan, you're not just saving money, you're making money. In my case for example, my employer deposits ¥9,660 into my account each month to cover the cost of a commuter pass between my home station and work, yet I choose to cycle, paying just ¥100 per day for bicycle parking. Working on the assumption of 20 work days in a month I will pay ¥2,000 each month for bicycle parking and pocket the remaining ¥7,660. Thank you very much!

Some however have questioned the soundness of my theory when taking into account what they call the "hidden costs" of bicycle commuting, arguing that the cost of maintenance, clothing and equipment will quickly consume any additional income received.  Not surprisingly the people who believe cycling is expensive are recreational rather than utilitarian cyclists as they quote the need for cycling specific clothing and kit that really isn't necessary for the everyday cyclist.

Some of the "hidden costs" raised include:

The Cost of Bicycle Maintenance

Bicycles must be properly maintained in order to be both comfortable and safe. But personally I spend very little each year on maintaining my bicycle, occasionally I'll replace brake pads, or cables, but rarely have to purchase tubes or pay for puncture repairs since fitting a pair of indestructible Schwalbe Puncture Proof tyres to my commuter bicycle.  In fact new tyres are always the most expensive maintenance item on my list, but as they only need replacing every few years the cost isn't that great when averaged out over the length of use. Bicycle maintenance barely makes a dent in my budget.

The Cost of Cycling Clothing

Helmets, gloves, wind shell, thermal underwear, backpacks, and socks were all cited to me as significant hidden costs of bicycle commuting, But when you commute in your work clothes and average out the cost of some winter kit over the lifetime of its use you're really not spending a significant amount each year. The only speciality clothing item I own, that I probably wouldn't otherwise, is a Wind Stopper (Gore Tex) jacket I purchased on sale for less than ¥2,000 well over 10 years ago, everything else I need for cycling to work comes directly from my wardrobe.

The Cost of Consumables

Here is a hidden cost I don't often think about, but one that is certainly a slow drain on my finances, consumables. I'll admit I seem to be constantly replacing batteries in my lights and in the summer I use alcohol wipes to freshen up with when I arrive at work. While they are expenses I would not incur when if commuting by train they are insignificant ones at that.

The Cost of Cycling Insurance

While not necessary, if you're spending a lot of time on the roads of Tokyo on your bicycle it is probably a good idea to have some form of insurance to cover yourself (and a third party) in the unlikely event of an accident. Almost every major insurer in Japan offers cycling insurance and with a number of high profile accidents in the news lately insurers are paying a lot more attention to cycling insurance and competition in the area to offer more for less is heating up. Perhaps the most simple way to purchase cycling insurance is via the Internet or an electronic kiosk at any 7/11 convenience store where cycling insurance can be bought for as little as ¥5,000 per year.

Hidden Transport Costs 

Utilising a commuter pass a round trip to work is ¥483 while to cost of a regular ticket for the same journey is ¥600. Therefore on days when the weather isn't conducive to cycling, days I'm feeling under the weather myself, and days when I plan to have a drink or two after work, I have to pay the full ¥600 ticket price, a significant ¥117 more than the commuter ticket price. Fortunately, unless I'm taking the train an awful lot during the month I don't end up out of pocket and if I believe its going to be a terrible month for cycling (for example during Tokyo's notorious rainy season) I may deem it more economical to purchase a commuter pass and forgo the bicycle until the weather clears up.

While there are expenses related to cycling to work, the expenses encountered by a utilitarian cyclist who rides to work on a modest bicycle while wearing regular clothing are far less than those incurred by recreational cyclists who believe they need special kit to cycle to work. You don't, if you have a bicycle you already have everything you need, all the rest is just marketing hype. If your employer continues to pay you a commuter fee even if you chose to cycle then you'd be crazy not to do the math, because you will be better off financially (not to mention that you'll be healthier, stronger, fitter, and happier too!)

On the other hand, if you're an employer and you continue to pay bicycle commuters a commuting fee based on their train journey then we need to talk about implementing a bike to work policy within your company, as having one will substantial savings, and result in happier, healthier and more productive employees. Trust me, its true.


night pedal cruising

Night Pedal Cruising Onsen Ride 2015

Splish, splash we're takin' a bath on the Night Pedal Cruising Onsen Ride Saturday February 21st!

This month, as we do in February each year we're cycling to Shinagawa where we'll visit the beautiful onsen "Shumizu Yu" to warm our bodies in one of the many hot, hot indoor and outdoor baths.

Riders will gather under the Night Pedal Cruising banner at the Aoyama United Nations University Farmers Market at 5:00pm on Saturday February 21, and will set off at 5:30pm.  We'll cycle a meandering course around the city taking in the sights of the nigh before finishing up at the onsen in in Shinagawa.

To bathe at the onsen or not is completely up to you. But as Shimizu Yu charges just ¥460 for use of the facilities you'd be crazy no to on a cold February night.

A the first man to cycle around the world, Thomas Stevens, noted on his travels in Japan in 1886 (Before he whipped off his trousers and waltzed into the tub):

The Japanese are more addicted to hot water bathing than the people of any other country.

As always dress warm as Night Pedal Cruising rides travel at a leisurely pace, and remember to bring lights, cameras (no nude pictures in the onsen please!) bells, whistles, and any kind of mobile sound system you may have.

For more information visit the Night Pedal Cruising event page.





しかし、 これほど高い数字が有りながら、自転車通勤者の数は少ない。大きな理由は、速くて清潔で効率的な公共交通システムがあり、それが通勤者にとって、他の移動手段よりも都市の足として便利だということだ。西洋では多くの場合、日常生活での自転車利用率は自転車通勤者の数と密接な関係にあるが、東京の場合、企業は従業員の自転車通勤を抑制することに積極的で、自転車の平均トリップ距離は2kmに満たない。

では、 市民の大部分が電車で通勤する都市で、なぜ自転車が盛んに利用されているのだろうか? 日常生活の一体どこでそんなに自転車が使われていて、14%ものトリップ分担率になるのだろうか? 手短かに言えば、東京の自転車利用者は都市近郊地域に集中していて、日常生活に必要な多くの外出を日々自転車でこなしており、自宅の数キロメートル圏内からわざわざ出ることは滅多にないのだ。都心部へ行くなら充実した公共交通があるので、東京の市民が自転車に乗る範囲は、ほぼ完全に、自分が住んでいる地域内に限られる。その理由を理解するには、東京近郊の典型的な地域構造を理解する必要がある。

東京の地域は、小さくて自己完結していた昔の村に似ている。村の中心には鉄道の駅があり、村のあらゆる活動の中心点になっている。住民の大半は鉄道を利用しているので、村に出入りする場合は必ず駅を通ることになる。これにより、駅は近郊地域の中心点になるのだ。東京では一日2千万人の鉄道利用者のうち、20%が自宅から最寄り駅まで自転車に乗っており、自転車利用者の数に応えられるだけの駐輪場を駅周辺に整備することは、地方自治体にとって大きな課題になっている。東京近郊の鉄道駅には駐車場が無いので、残りの80%の乗客は駅まで歩いている。[訳注 駅によっては路線バス利用者が1割ほどを占めている場合がある。]






This article has been translated from the original English version by ろぜつ.