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Daily Yomiuri, 23/11/07

Japón: Railway passengers ignore cell phone rule

Domingo 25 de noviembre de 2007 · 1790 lecturas

Railway passengers ignore cell phone rule
The Yomiuri Shimbun

Despite railway operators requesting passengers to switch off their mobile phones near priority seats, many passengers are disregarding the rule, which is designed to prevent cell phones from having a potentially deleterious effect on certain medical devices.

All 31 major railroad operators across the country said in a Yomiuri Shimbun survey that passengers fail to follow the rules regarding mobile phones on trains.

This month, East Japan Railway Co. and private railway companies in the Tokyo metropolitan area launched a joint campaign to raise people’s awareness of the appropriate use of cell phones on trains, by placing posters at stations within the area.

But how is such misbehavior viewed by those who might be affected?

When a 57-year-old Tokyo woman who has been using a pacemaker for the past 16 years took a Keio-Inokashira Line train last month from Shimokitazawa Station bound for Shibuya, she saw a male high school student using his phone to send an e-mail while hanging onto a strap in front of the priority seat section. Ironically, the train bore a poster calling on passengers to switch off their mobiles.

After changing to the Yamanote Line to Gotanda Station, she took the Tokyu-Ikegami Line from there. Although the train was almost empty as it was the first station on the line and not in a rush hour, a young man headed straight to a priority seat and repeatedly checked his mobile.

"Priority seats are a priority in name only now, right?" the woman said sadly.

Similar scenes can be observed on the Yamanote Line on weekday mornings. Riding the line in both directions once a day for three consecutive days, a Yomiuri Shimbun reporter witnessed 102 passengers using mobile phones around priority seats in the 11-car trains. Of these, nine used their phone to chat. A suit-clad man who boarded at Hamamatsucho Station sat in a priority seat while chatting on his phone. He continued speaking for about five minutes until he alighted at Shinagawa Station, two stops from Hamamatsucho.

In its 1997 guidelines, the Electromagnetic Compatibility Conference recommended that mobile phones be used at a distance of at least 22 meters from pacemakers, as electromagnetic radiation from mobile phones may cause such medical devices to malfunction. The conference comprised the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry as well as telecommunications and railway industry organizations.

Based on this guideline, railway operators are calling on passengers to switch off their mobile phones whenever they are near priority seats. However, The Yomiuri Shimbun’s survey of 31 major railway and subway operators across the country found they all had experienced problems related to passengers’ use of cell phones.

The survey covered six JR companies, 16 major public railway companies in the Tokyo metropolitan area and the Kansai region, as well as the Tokyo metropolitan government and eight government ordinance-designated major cities that operate subways.

Sagami Railway Co. and Nagoya Railroad Co. said they had received complaints from customers about the use of mobile phones around priority seats.

Transport bureaus in Yokohama and Kobe cities, which operate subway lines, also said there had been trouble with passengers related to mobile phones.

In an effort to raise public awareness, city government-run subways in Sapporo, Sendai and Yokohama are asking passengers to switch off their mobile phones while on trains. Despite efforts including announcements and posters, many passengers seem unconcerned about sitting in priority seats and using their phones to write e-mails or play games.

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Specially designated cars

In 2003, Hankyu Corp. banned the use of mobile phones in two cars of each train. However, at the end of October the firm reduced this number to one as it was found that many people kept their phones on, even in these specially designated cars.

"By focusing on one car, we intend to encourage people to strictly follow the rule and switch off their cell phones," said a Hankyu Corp. public relations department official.

In fiscal 2004, Nagoya’s city-run subway changed the locations of antennae in its stations so that second-generation NTT DoCoMo phones would have no signal on platforms and in trains, concluding that it would be too late to take countermeasures after a mobile-phone induced accident.

According to the Japanese Heart Rhythm Society, which comprises heart disease experts, no report has yet been made of pacemakers malfunctioning as a result of mobile phones.

However, a pacemaker users association is calling on the public to be more aware of people fitted with the medical device.

"Some pacemaker users complain that they feel sick whenever they see a mobile phone," said Susumu Hidaka, 77, vice chairman of the association.

"I hope people will become more considerate and turn off their cell phones, at least when they are around priority seats," he added.

(Nov. 23, 2007)

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