Musashino City is a suburb of Tokyo, located 13 km west of Tokyo. It has a population of 130,000. Most residents commute everyday to central Tokyo for work. The composition of Musashino's residents was mixed, consisting of working men and women, children and the elderly. There are three stations in the railway line that cut across the city, and bus routes crisscross the city bringing commuters to the railway station.
Problems in transportation arose when populations increased and existing bus routes and bus stops became insufficient and inaccessible, at more than 200 yards for many sections of the city. This was particularly the case for elderly and handicapped persons.
The process of identifying an alternative transportation solution started with a simple letter written to the city's Mayor, by an elderly lady who couldn't go to the shopping area in the north of the city since it was too far to the bus stop closest to her home. The Mayor called a Citizens Symposium to develop a long range plan: he proposed a plan to link existing train and bus transport on one hand, and bicycle and walking on the other, with an intermediate minibus system. This bus was called "Move Bus". An experimental route was set up in 1993, after intensive consultation and surveys with the residents of the city conducted by experts and transportation specialists from outside the city. The principle of the Move Bus was to service short range zones, convenient for many; a system where people can participate in designing the routes; convenient for elderly and handicapped; attractive, aesthetic and innovative.
In 1994, Musashino city cleared regulations and laws regarding public transportation, technical standards, operation and fare regulation that would enable the Move Bus to operate. It also increased additional personnel for the Move Bus project, and invited several private bus companies to participate in the project. After discussions and modifications in the project's specifications, one of the bus companies agreed to take up the operationalization.
In 1995, three loops were built around the three railway stations in Musashino City. On an average, 18 to 23 passengers use the 29-passenger capacity bus at a time. 100 vehicles operate in the city, with stops at 200 m. Trips are at 15 mts interval, with about 1,270 trips made every month. The charge is ¥100 for a trip, irrespective of the distance traveled.
Survey showed that use of the bus increased during weekends (for shopping and other family recreation), and during days with rain or snow. It also showed that the elderly (>65yrs) moved out more often after the introduction of Move Buses. The Move Bus Planning Committee, that oversees the development of the project, has only transport specialists, in order to avoid regional bias in route decisions.
The success of the Move Bus project has depended on a logical transportation hierarchy, disputing the conventional thought that 'middle level' transportation is costly. Circular routes was used since it catered to a larger area, and used less road space. The Move Bus catered to specialized need of a clearly identified target group. Thus the welfare plus subsidy component of the project was easily justified. With community acceptance of routes+frequency+costs, success of the project was ensured. A letter from an elderly resident started off this initiative, emphasizing the importance of citizens feedback and prompt action by the city.