Tokyo: Damn, I missed the train… oh wait, here’s the next one!

 

Harajuku Station, well served by Tokyo's efficient rail system.

A few days ago, I wrote a post about how Adelaide’s (Australia) public transport system still has a long way to go and a lot of investment required before the people of Adelaide can consider the public transport as a serious method of moving around the city instead of a last resort.

After travelling to other cities outside Australia, many of us quickly begin to realise how ineffective our public transport systems in Australia are compared to their international counterparts, particularly in Asia and Europe. Whilst there are a handful of good examples of well planned public transport around transit-oriented developments in the US, few cities there have good quality public transport, not even New York City (although I must admit the coverage of NYC’s subway is truly respectable)!

I believe one place that we can learn from is the city where public transport usage is the highest in world, Tokyo. There are few places in the world where timetables are kept on track (pardon the pun!) to the second.

The first video shows how frequent the trains come and go (this is from Kanda Station on the Chuo, Keihin-Tohoku and Yamanote Lines):

This second video is of a video monitor and PA announcement on board the busy Yamanote Line. Notice how detailed the information is:

The third one shows how clean the interior of the trains are. This train is one of the new E233 series trains introduced on the Chuo Line in 2006:

There’s a few things that are difficult to pick up from the videos if you don’t look carefully but are key to Tokyo’s success in moving so many people by public transport:

  • On every line through central Tokyo, trains run at least every 2-3 minutes during peak hours and approximately every 5 minutes through the day time.
  • The railways run a variety of different train services to account for different travelling patterns. Local service trains run routes stopping at all stations for short distance commutes while several types of Rapid and Express trains speed up the longer distance commutes, often running parallel to the Local services.
  • Communication with passengers is clear, even with the imperfect English! Nearly all trains in Tokyo have video displays above the train doors displaying information about the time, stopping pattern of the service, next station, connecting services, position of exits at the stations and estimated times of arrival in several languages. This is complemented by the PA systems which are often in both Japanese and English.
  • The trains and buses are clean! Nothing less than perfection is acceptable on the public transport system (this in itself has some undesirable consequences but that is another story!)
  • Most importantly, if you haven’t picked it from the map, it covers just about every nook and cranny in central Tokyo! (Impressive in itself, considering the map is only for one of several rail operators in Tokyo)

A map of the JR East rail network in Tokyo. Several other operators also compete with JR East in Tokyo. (Source: JR East)

One final component to Tokyo’s public transport system is key to its successful operation is the Yamanote Line. From the map, the Yamanote Line is the green line which runs in a loop around central Tokyo. It’s main role is to provide a connection between the six major interchange stations (important hubs in the transport system) as well as providing a bypass to the mess of other lines that run within the loop and connections to smaller stations that aren’t served by faster lines. A well-defined major public transport corridor that runs around the centre of Adelaide linking numerous hubs together is an important part of the public transport system that is currently missing and makes the current overall system appear rather incomplete. Developing a good public transport system takes more than just investing in a few shiny new vehicles and a couple of piddly little extensions here and there.

Just some food for thought. What else makes a good public transport system?

Sources:

Adelaide: The good and bad of Adelaide’s public transport

JR East – East Japan Railway Company

Human Transit: Portland – A challenging chart

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One Response to “Tokyo: Damn, I missed the train… oh wait, here’s the next one!”

  1. Adelaide: The good and the bad of Adelaide’s public transport « Urban Rediscovery: Creating Better Communities Says:

    […] often with a large loop service. Good examples of this are Singapore’s Circle Line and Tokyo’s Yamanote Line, which provide a bypass around their city centres. Adelaide does have a bus line which performs […]

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