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.


Anonymous said...

Yes, that is exactly the reason there are female-only trains. Perverted little gropers is one of the few endemic crime problems in Japan. Japan pretty much rules over all other mass transit in the world, period. Oh, Japan, clean little utopia full of cuteness, how I miss thee.

SongMonk said...

I guess you really don't need anything to hang on to when you are packed like sardines. :-)

mfb already affirmed the no-groping reason. But here are a couple links for you:



(I had never heard of that before either. I just Googled just now.)

Anonymous said...

The female only cars are for women who preferred not to be groped. This is apparently a big problem in Japan. Still a very male dominated culture, apparently. Although it's hard to know why that gives anyone a license to grab another person. I read about this recently in a trade magazine.

Bill Dailey said...

Thanks for all the insight and cool photos. I've never been to Japan, but I'd love to someday and try out their tansit systems in person.

Anonymous said...

I love how anonymous used the word "preferred". I'm sure some women enjoy a good grope once in a while from a complete stranger!! (LOL)

Thanks for the pics! (I posted the request.) Great post!

bartmusings said...

One more good I forgot to mention! There were signs all over trains that ask passengers to mute their cellphones out of courtesy. When people get calls, they end it immediately with whispers, or they step out of the train to talk, or they move to the small area in-between cars to conclude their conversation. You just don't see people with ring tones going off or blabbering on and on about their day in a phone conversation!

Anonymous said...

I know cell phones are annoying but sometimes it is more about the person than the phone. Yesterday on the way home there was a girl on the opposite seating area, who sounded as if she had a bullhorn attached to her mouth. She was a non-stop talker who adored using the word "like".

OMG it was like so horrible! I was very temped to ask her if she had an "indoor voice" and request she expand her vocabulary like soon.(If I'm going to be exposed to someone else's information at least make it interesting.) I found that she managed to find her quiet voice when she commented on fellow passangers and whispered. Otherwise it was bullhorn syndrome all the way home with absolutely no phone involved.

Anonymous said...

why do they have female only trains? look up 'kancho'... ie anal probing as a joke...


bartmusings said...

I did know the probable justification for the female only cars but I wanted to be fair and objective, besides, a Japanese coworker of mine informed me that part of that policy promotes female career-building and encourages more women in the workforce. That sounded like a bit of a stretch but it shows that they have a lot of pride and don't exactly want perversion to be the reason behind female only lines and cars!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a productive trip from the light rail aspect. Interesting note on the female only cars and we want a bike only go...LOL.

I would love to see more trains in the system for the patrons, but right now that cannot be a reality, because the TBT is limited by the amount of traffic, it is the system bottleneck.

By the sound of the trip many pieces of their infrastructure are up to date, while BART might lag behind by 5, 10, 15 years. I do like the idea of the automated voices, not only on the trains but at the stations. Those computerized voices need a serious overhaul I think.

Finally a reconfiguring of the cars, if there are no other options now or until new cars are purchased. If BART wants to continue maximizing revenue and more trains are not an option, then cramming more patrons on a train is the only other option. I like the idea of the seats on the side of the car and more standing room. Although that will surely bring more complaints.

Regardless thanks for the update on the Japan trip, some interesting stuff...

Anonymous said...

Do you know if the Japanese system is subsidized by the goverment or special taxes? Is BART?

Anonymous said...

Whatever the reason is for Japan's "women only" cars, I think the option is positive for women. There are similar options offered in other Asian countries. In the Philippines, Manila's light rail system has "women and children only" cars... which reminds me of 'women and children first'.