Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The good and bad of my Japan mass transit experiences

If you've read my blog for some time now, you know that I like to compare mass transit systems (generally abroad) to what we have here in the Bay Area. I've just returned from a vacation in Japan and used quite a few different systems across the island from Tokyo Subway, Nagoya Subway, Japan Rail, Kyoto Mass Transit, to Osaka Subway. Very interesting experience overall, but I have to say I've missed the simplicity of BART. Japan's various systems are so complicated, especially Tokyo Subway, although you can pretty much get anywhere by public transport, which was nice too.

Here are some of the good, the bad, and the plain bizarre of my Japan mass transit experiences:

  1. Passengers line up there. They do not cut in line or squeeze through from the side of you. People respect rules and follow them, no matter how long the lines are. And trust me, the lines get MUCH LONGER there than here.
  2. Subway trains are designed for maximum standing room (see image) with 2 strips of side window benches (like Muni) and many many flex handle bars of all heights for people to hold on to. BART's demo cars contain only 6 of those hanging pulls for passengers per car, which is not enough. You need to have them all over for a crowded train.
  3. Trains are clean, no matter what time of day! I did not see a littered train while I was there. All train floors and seats were clean at all hours. People just don't litter in there....and if they drink or eat (allowed), they pick up after themselves.
  4. Similarly, train stations are quite clean too.
  5. When train is a maximum capacity, you can always count on those standing by the doors to step outside the train to let people exit and enter. They just do it. Here at BART, very few make that courteous move.
  6. Trains were ALWAYS on time. Doesn't matter if it's the cross country rail or the local subway, they arrive right on the dot.
  7. Train have clear signs inside and out indicating the next destination and the direction/route of the trains. There were vocal computerized announcements too (bilingual) that were audible. BART really needs that.
  8. Handicapped seats are very clearly marked with signs, pictorial designations (for handicapped, elderly, children, and pregnant women), and some seats are even marked a different color so they really stand out. Anyone who sits there while someone who is actually designated to remains standing should no doubt feel the shame and guilt with all those markings. People, on the most part, do get up for the designees.
  9. Platforms contain clear indications on how and where people should line up. Some BART stations have these lines too...but basically the painted lines instruct passengers in waiting to line up away from the train doors to allow people to get out first.
  10. Station restrooms are actually decently clean. Some are even friendly to families (with changing tables, child seats...etc.) We all know BART bathrooms are usually pretty filthy.
  11. The AC was always on strong (it was hot there) and they make sure trains are all well ventilated. Even at max capacity, I still could breath. On BART, often it is stuffy when the train is not even crowded.
  12. Connections were clear and easily identified by maps and signs. Whether you need to connect to another line, subway system, the train, or the bus, the Japan stations make it very easy for you to find your way.
  13. Trains came very often, not every 15-20 minutes.
  14. Rides were CHEAP, despite long distances! Much cheaper than the $7-8 we pay from East Bay surburbia to Downtown SF.
  15. Computerized ticket machines are everywhere-- easy for anyone to locate/map out their routes, purchase tickets.
  16. Trains have overhead racks so passengers can unload their bags to stand safely, and also not block standing or sitting room with their baggages! This is something I've always thought BART should have!
  1. No concept of personal space...you pretty much have none when it's peak hours. During peak commute hours, there are gloved station officers who make sure everyone in line gets onto the trains, no matter how crowded. I couldn't take a photo during peak commute hours because I literally could not raise my arms (wanted so bad to show you guys just how tight it was but couldn't, sorry!) I was smashed onto my husband's back while a kid was smashed onto my hip on one side, and a man's backpack was smashed onto my shoulder. As for the back, my back and the back of the kid's mom were conjoined. I could not move any part of my body. However uncomfortable, I do have to point out that the train was well ventilated despite the over-capacity, and there were enough flex pull down safety handles for everyone. If you are even slightly claustrophobic, THIS IS NOT FOR YOU!
  2. All options to the major airport are not as economical and easily accessible as BART to SFO. In Japan, you have several connection options to the airport but you need a separate ticket (rides cost more than BART option) and you need to change trains/platforms/terminals. But to be fair, the stations and routes are much more complex in Japan and the airports are all quite far from the cities.
The Bizarre
  1. OK, so maybe this is not bizarre but I don't yet know the reason something like this needs to be around. It's not a bad idea, just a little weird to me, that's all. There are female only train cars during certain peak hours. Even the lines outside these designated trains are marked for female passengers only!! Why? I can only think of one potential reason but I don't want to jump to conclusions...the peak hour trains are so uncomfortably crowded and put you so close to other passengers that perhaps there are those whose conduct can be deemed appropriate or even illegal? And these trains protect the females? I don't know. If you know the real reason, please do share.
Lastly, I've posted a few photos here that show some of the things I discussed. Couldn't take too many since most of the time, we could barely move on the trains. Check out the captions.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Back from vacation in Japan; got quite a few things to share with you!

The vacation itself was wonderful...got to experience different parts of the country north and south, and soaked in local experiences such as baseball, sumo, and yes...the very complex but comprehensive mass transit systems. We're not the tour bus types of people who look at sites in back of a window...we definitely like to get out there, get around the way locals get around, eat what they eat, and see what they see. Boy...do I have some stories for you!!

I kept a list chronicling the good and the bad with the Japanese transit systems which I will spend the time to write out tomorrow. I've also taken some pictures of interesting signs, overly crowded conditions, train designs, train conditions...etc which I'll post this week some time.

Hope you'll check back in by mid-week for a detailed write-up on Japan mass transit and how it compares to what we have here in the Bay Area.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Going abroad again, will certainly compare the public transit to what we have here

Heading to Japan soon to tour up and down the island. Heard mostly very positive things about Japan's efficient, yet very complex and intricate rail and subway systems and to tell you the truth, I'm a little nervous about mastering it but will need to rely on it to get to certain destinations.

If you've been to multiple cities in Japan and have any tips to offer, feel free to share them!! I'd really appreciate it. For now, I have maps and itineraries printed out, regional and local connections written down, and routes and alternate routes charted out. Trying my best to be prepared but who knows if that's going to help?!

I will definitely check-in online from Japan to share any funny or interesting anecdotes on BARTMusings.com! Talk to you again soon!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Have your ticket handy! Is that too much to ask?

I'd like to think of myself as a pretty understanding and patient person but at the same time, I am fairly efficient when it comes down to my daily commute routine. For example, I know where to park (1st to 3rd choice of area) in the BART lot, I know the shortest way from lot to ticket turnstile, I know which train to enter into and exit out of, and I always have my ticket handy or at the very least know where exactly it is. Of course this routine is established after years of riding BART, but even as a new rider way WAY back in my college days, I clearly recall always having my ticket in hand or very close within access in a pocket or purse. I don't think I've ever taken more than 3 seconds to pass through the BART ticket gates...usually it takes me 1 second. Even in a foreign country's public transit system, I go out of my way to go with the flow and not ever slow things down.

Now...the point of my story today! I just don't know how some passengers can take so long digging for their tickets and block the ticket gate while they aimlessly search for each pocket and bag. I mean, you know you're about to cross the turnstile...it's no surprise, so why not have your ticket ready?

Saw a woman who has a roller business suitcase stood in front of the gate for at least 45 seconds trying to find her ticket. Finally, she noticed she was blocking the gate and stepped aside to continue feeling her pockets. Later, I saw a group of 6 teenagers, blocking 3 ticket gates, and none of them had a ticket handy! The girls were searching their purses and laughing, joking around with each other! Commuters started to line-up behind them. Finally, one commuter asked if they can step aside so others can get through. I was lining up to redeem my commuter checks so I had plenty of time to observe! Later, I saw two men, who looked like regular transit riders, who were deeply in chat as they walked towards the ticket turnstiles. As they approached the turnstiles, they remained talking! Neither could pull out their tickets and walk through while continuing their conversation. Both literally stood in front of the turnstiles, searched their pockets and then their suitcase for their BART tickets while they continued talking!

I guess there are all types of people out there! 99% of us are quite efficient! It was just bizarre to see so many that were inefficient and inconsiderate today! They can take all the time they want finding their tickets if they aren't blocking the turnstiles and sort of move their belongs and their bodies out of the way. But to block the flow of passengers going in and out of the station is just a bit lame!!! Funny.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Fremont on time starting today? For real?

A BARTMusings reader and Fremont line commuter notified me today that there will be full automatic movement between South Hayward and Fremont beginning Saturday, 7/12! That would be great news for many commuters. Is it really happening? Please keep the rest of us posted. This has been a hot topic and sore experience for many!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A "greener" BART

Just read about BART's plans to go solar; supporting lighting, ticket machines, gates, elevators with sun power. Orinda has been tapped as the pilot station to go solar by end of year!

Props to BART for this pilot program! Every effort counts. Hey, if we can't get cleaner trains, at least we can get 'greener' stations! If you're interested in reading more, take a look here: http://www.bart.gov/news/articles/2008/news20080710.aspx

A rider helping other riders

Got an email today from a very helpful and resourceful BART commuter (thanks, R.J.) who wanted to share with everyone a new way to find out up to the minute BART delays and elevator operations status.

He set up the SMS capabilities below for those who don't have web access on their mobile phones. Once you sign up, you now can get a text message regarding real time delays and elevator status.

Service advisories by SMS

Elevator status by SMS

For those of us who do have web access on our mobiles, you might already know that BART currently offers this service for us to find out schedules and delays:

Service advisories by email

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

BART popularity soars!

Did you know that BART-SFO ridership increased by 65% since launch? Very good news, impressive, and I predict it will continue to soar. I've written many times about the convenience of this route and how I personally depend on it, especially since I no longer need to transfer at Balboa. Riding BART to SFO sure beats driving across the Bay Bridge and 101 traffic to the airport, finding long term parking, waiting for one of those shuttles to come around, and finally, waiting for passengers to be dropped off by the shuttle one terminal by terminal. However, one down side to this BART-SFO popularity which we've discussed before too....the growing number of luggage pieces taking up seats and excessive amount of standing room space and more BART newbies who do not know the basic BART etiquette. I get dirty looks when I nicely ask them to remove their suitcases from the seats but oh well, they need to learn! As BART gets ever more crowded these days, we all need to learn the etiquette and co-exist.

A few other interesting stats I pulled off the BART website...check them out. Want to point out the last one in particular: 1 out of 3 Contra Costa County commuters traveling to Oakland and San Francisco who chose BART. That's a very impressive stat right there!

1.3 billion
Number of passenger miles traveled on BART every year

$400 million
Amount of money BART riders spend in a year at San Francisco retailers

100 million
Number of people riding BART every year

Metric tons of CO2 BART riders save annually

Average number of BART riders on a weekday

Gallons of gas saved by BART riders every day

Percentage of peak period/peak direction commute traffic BART carries across the Bay

Pounds of pollutants a day saved by each BART rider

1 in 3
Number of Contra Costa County commuters traveling to Oakland and San Francisco who chose BART

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Day After...

Going back to work after an extended weekend or vacation is never fun. While technically we should all feel more well rested and recharged, I think many of us cannot easily let go of the sad end to our worry-free and deadline-free days. On BART today, I felt miserable and tired. After going through my morning emails, I just zoned out and stared blankly at billboards.

Meaningless thoughts such as the below passed through my head.
"Oh, that movie is coming out, cool!"
"Geez, that's an old ad, can't BART get new advertisers?"
"Urgh, like I would ever go see that?"

Then, I saw a McDonald's billboard with a double cheeseburger and "100% BEEF" emblazoned across it. Why be so proud it's 100% beef? Wasn't it 100% beef before? I knew it wasn't 100% quality beef parts but I thought at the very least it all came from a cow? Why such a big billboard advertising the fact that cheeseburger's a McD's are now 100%? Very disturbing!

Yes, meaningless thoughts but they got me through the commute (still puzzled and grossed out by the 100% beef ad). I'll need today to readjust my attitude and get back into the swing of work again!

Oh by the way...I missed a huge milestone last week. I posted my 400th entry on BARTMusings! Thank you, everyone, for all your comments, ideas, criticisms, support, suggestions, and time!! I enjoy writing about my musings because you make it fun for me!