Last Monday, our group was a funny and struggling sight; everyone was weighed down by 10 weeks worth of luggage through the dense subways of Tokyo. Many flights of steps later and a few short rail trips, we made it on a long express train out of the city to begin our travel leg. The scenery quickly changed as we left the densely-layered streets of Tokyo to rural rice paddies. Our exit from the Tokyo megaregion.
Sustainable living is a broad term that means the same general thing to all (high quality of life without sacrificing the quality of life for future generations), but looks different in different areas. For Tokyo, to sustain the high paced living and production of a city requires efficient intercity transit. Effective public transit, as discussed, decreases space on the road and encourages physical wellbeing among many other factors. Other factors for urban sustainable lifestyles include conserving living space and using energy efficient devices. Out in rural areas, sustainable living also includes an effective use of space and efficient transportation, but this looks different and is most often centered around agricultural productivity. I noticed a seemingly effective use of land outside my window through rice paddies taking up most of the available land.
That being said, watching from a train for sustainable living is like skimming a book—I can't really say what it's like to maintain a sustainable lifestyle in rural Japan. But like in all rural regions around the world, I noticed areas appearing more frugal with less resources that one would find in a city.
So far on this trip, our dialogue has been centered around how humans make personal or systemic decisions that influence the sustainability of a megaregion. But what if a tragedy occurs that is outside human control? In the case of Fukushima, how does a community sustain itself when the land has been destroyed by earthquake and tsunami, and the region now is actually uninhabitable due to its nuclear disaster? Sustainability requires resilience for the unpredictable. Our tour in the red zone was heartbreaking to see a place that is literally on pause from 2011. We looked inside classrooms and hospitals still filled with the things left behind during evacuation. For years, there was no way to live in those regions, period—sustainably or not.
But this community is resilient. In an article by the Guardian, the mayor of Okuma has returned to his city and reflects on the change happening. Although 60 percent of the city remains off-limits, people are returning where they can and rebuilding their homes of over twenty generations. And change is happening as renewable energy—solar panels and wind turbines—are starting to replace the land. In our visit to a school in the Fukushima prefecture, we discussed how collectivism increases this resilience, as people hold themselves accountable for the larger population's development. This is seen through education, as the school allows anyone of any age to visit and professionals are working with students on their capstone projects on sustainable living. This is different from the highly individualistic society of the United States. But, as we also discussed that day, other factors such as racial discrimination affect the ability of all communities to be resilient in disasters, as seen in Hurricane Katrina. Resilience, and sustainable development have their own challenges in every community. Fukushima still faces several challenges, such as increasing the value of its rice produced and reducing stigma around contamination.
Overall, my experience in Fukushima was incredibly moving and a true form of experiential education. I'm excited to continue this learning process this week as we travel across the country.
The trip through Fukushima was both a heartbreaker and a ray of hope. The destruction caused by the earthquake, tsunami waves, and nuclear disaster was daunting and the effect on the people who lived their and are still affected by this event is saddening. On a brighter side though, many actions have been taken by many groups focusing in on the sustainable development and recovery of the area in many different parts of Fukushima, hoping to make Fukushima an even more sustainable, healthy, and beautiful city then it once was.
While at Fukushima, we got the chance to observe many different things. First, we took a trip to the Tokyo Electrical Power Company (TEPCO) Decommissioning Archive Center to learn more about the disaster in Fukushima on March 11, 2011. There, they showed us videos and pictures giving us a background on the overview of what happened that day with the nuclear reactor and the amount of destruction to the surrounding area caused due to the explosions, and also the earthquake and tsunami beforehand. When we reached the exclusion zone, we came to learn that because of the nuclear explosion leaking harmful chemicals into the surrounding environment, much of the soil, water, and plant life was permanently damaged. With the soil in particular, it was mixed in with these foreign chemicals making it no longer able to sustain plant life, specifically locally grown crops. As this soil could not be fixed in its present state, the choice made was to completely remove the existing soil altogether and replace it with new soil from various places. Currently, there are about (probably more than) 19 million bags of contaminated soil across the exclusion zone. We also saw abandoned houses, nursing homes, fishing shops, and elementary schools that had either been abandoned or badly damaged since the catastrophe. It should be noted that while the nuclear explosion affected the environmental health of the area, the 10 and 15-meter-high tsunamis brought much of the physical devastation and damage to the community, sweeping away entire towns and most buildings within the coastal area near Fukushima. The sites we saw and the stories told to us seemed unimaginable, and the saddest part is that they were all true.
In relation to the resistance and recovery of the Fukushima area now, the residents and workers here are a tough and determined group to say the least. Continuous work is being done on the reactors to safely and efficiently clean up the area to successfully decommit the reactors from action. This work includes searching and removing chemical and physical debris from the site to limit harm to anyone, flushing out any reactive nuclear waste from the area to prevent any further combustion or accidents, and carefully removing the structures as harmful materials are removed to ensure a full clean-up of the zone. Other efforts like digging fields to hold the many bags of contaminated soil, creating solar panel fields across kilometers of land, and making more sustainable living conditions in houses, energy distribution, and natural resource convenience and efficiency are all ways the people of Fukushima are showing everyone that they will not put down by this disaster, and rather come back better and work harder to make Fukushima even better, and their work and attitudes are truly inspiring to an aspiring environmental engineer like myself.
On March 11, 2011, tragedy fell upon the community of Fukushima and still leaves its mark on the area and will continue to for possibly the next 30 plus years according to sustainability and clean-up officials we talked to on site. But this loss and displacement has not discouraged the people of Fukushima, as they are aiming to make the area completely sustainable, running on renewable energy, and even better and healthier than its past city. With this goal attained, hopefully this new development can welcome the refugees of the disaster back to their home where they can flourish and help in the goal of a healthy, sustainable Fukushima.
On my way from Tokyo to Kyoto, I had the privilege of riding the Shinkansen, the pinnacleof efficient Japanese transportation. This sleek, high-speed vehicle allows for passengers to travel across the country within hours. This particular train provides comfort and convenience that surpass those of trains around the world.
The quality of the Shinkansen is obvious upon first entering it. The interior closely resembles an airplane with overhead space to store luggage, bathrooms for each cart, tables attached to the back of seats, and moveable armrests. However, unlike most planes, the Shinkansen provides plenty of leg room and spacious seats, providing maximal comfort. Even the aisles are wider, allowing staff members to easily move down the train with carts of food for sale. There are also additional amnesties such as outlets for charging phones and laptops. The train itself it extremely fast, moving smoothly at around 250 miles per hour.
The patrons on the vehicle were polite, and volume levels remained low, adhering to the quiet nature of Japanese culture. The timeliness of the Shinkansen was up to par with the rest of trains in Japan. My ticket specified that the train would depart at 5:33 PM, and the train did indeed leave precisely at 5:33. Finding the Shinkansen and accessing the station was not a problem. The Shinkansen was located in the same station as local trains, allowing for convenient transfers. Information was also easily accessible with a screen in the front of the cart with real-time information of upcoming stops. There was also an overhead speaker announcing updates in both Japanese and English.
I have ridden trains in several other countries, but none of them compare to the speed and quality of the Shinkansen. The MARTA train in Atlanta is notorious for being dangerous with its often rowdy passengers. I and the majority of my friends would never take MARTA alone, but in Japan, even elementary school children ride the transit by themselves. It is also extremely difficult to find information on MARTA's schedule, and more often than not, it is more convenient to opt for other modes of transportation. When I visited Europe, I was impressed with its extensive train system that could take me just about anywhere, yet the trains did not maintain the cleanliness that characterizes Japanese trains, and whenever I would travel, I was constantly on alert for pickpocketers. I, however, would have none of those concerns when riding the Shinkansen. In Korea, while it is easy to navigate the transit system, the trains tend to have a noisier atmosphere, and they lack the speed and comfort of the Shinkansen.
While I love traveling, often times traveling long distances can be an excruciating experience. It is insane that Japan is able to provide a train that is able to take you across the country within a couple of hours with comfort levels that far surpass those of an airplane. Technology and innovation have transformed the traveling experience and most definitely have “shrunk” distances. Japan’s Shinkansen lies at the top of these cutting edge technologies, and I’m so glad I was able to experience it first-hand!
As our train departed from Tokyo to Fukushima, the hustle and bustle of the city made way for the quieter, slower paced life of the countryside. It was particularly fascinating to note the differences in sustainability between a mega-region like Tokyo and a city outside a mega-region, such as Fukushima. It was evident that both cities prioritize sustainability, but the aspects of sustainability they choose to focus on differ.
Tokyo, a mega-region, focuses mainly on accommodating its ever-growing population. Everyone has somewhere to go and somewhere to be. In order to relieve congestion and preserve the city, it allocates a tremendous amount of resources to develop sustainable forms of transportation (such as transits and bicycle riding) to maintain the orderliness of the city. On the other hand, places such as Fukushima, which are not as populated and have endured the brunt of natural disasters and nuclear explosions, has placed a greater emphasis on renewable energy. This is seen in the number of solar panels being built to generate electricity, and the city’s goal to rely 100% on renewable energy. Rather than high rises and malls populating the area, the region outside the main cities consists of small homes and gardens by the sea. The natural environment is much more prominent in this area, and efforts to both clean and preserve it are of high priority, especially as the nuclear meltdown has contaminated the area. Often times, it is a drastic event that brings about change, and it was this momentous period in Japanese history that spurred a movement toward achieving renewable energy.
I remember first hearing about the tsunami and earthquake in Japan when I was ten. I was devastated that this happened, but I do not think I ever truly understood the impact of these disasters. Visiting Fukushima in person and hearing the stories of those whose lives were affected brought a new perspective to this issue. In March 2011, both natural disasters and the nuclear plant meltdown forced people to flee their homes. My study abroad group visited abandoned elementary schools, where the classrooms remained exactly how they were left. While some were fortunate to escape the tsunami in time, many were not.
Despite the tragedies that occurred, the government and its people were determined to rebuild and restore their town. Slowly but surely, new train stations and railroads are beginning to open up, and new homes are being constructed. During our tour, we had the opportunity to visit the home of our tour guide’s father. He had lived in Fukushima his entire life but had to evacuate in 2011, and after many years, he was finally able to return home. Like our tour guide’s father, many of the elderly were able to return to the place where they grew up.
The resilience of the community was also seen in the younger generation. Being able to visit the high school in Fukushima was an uplifting experience as we were able to witness a group of students who were extremely motivated to help their community grow. Many of the students experienced bullying as a result of their displacement as their classmates would shun them for coming from a contaminated area. Despite the cruelty of their classmates, many students have been able to rise up and use their skills to benefit their community. Especially at Futaba Future High School, the faculty was set on coming alongside the students and providing them with a quality education.
Change is evident even within Japanese companies. The Japanese company, TEPCO, held enormous responsibility for the nuclear plant meltdown that occurred in 2011. Before the tsunami hit, they were determined to develop their nuclear plants as quickly as possible. However, their desire to do so came with serious repercussions. Rather than building a sea wall or building the nuclear plants on higher ground, they opted for what was easier and faster. After the disaster that ensued, they were extremely apologetic. We had the opportunity to visit their center, and they explained how they are currently using technology to remove debris and fuel from the ocean. Additionally, they are working on creating specialized suits to protect those working in the exclusion zones, areas severely affected by radioactive material. Although TEPCO’s original approach proved to be severely unsustainable, they are now making a conscious effort to improve their safety precautions for both people and the environment.
While I am not sure what I expected from visiting Fukushima, I am certain that this has been one of the most impactful trips. It brought another dimension to an event that I had only heard about in the news. It was also extremely interesting to be able to see how this community is addressing various challenges and how this event has shifted the way it addresses sustainability.
Having completed our crash course in the Tokyo transit system on day one of INTA 3232, Smart and Sustainable Megaregion, we moved on to a tour of JR East to learn its process of Research and Development. From what I've seen today, efforts towards making transportation more sustainable are much more systemically-focused in Japan, whereas the US sustainability is more often targeted towards flashy technology and still lags much behind in providing effective transit service.
To understand what it means to have an effective transit system, our lecture prefacing the field trip had us consider factors why we choose (or more commonly, not choose) to ride MARTA while at Tech. Our ideas fell under the seven demands for useful service:
It takes me where I want to go
It takes me when I want to go
It is a good use of my time
It is a good use of my money
I can trust it
It gives me freedom (to change my plans)
In my adventures the past few days, my personal seven demands for useful service have been fulfilled easily: I've been able to take a train to a stop within easy walking distance to my destination; I have never waited more than five minutes for a train; I've saved a lot by not having to Uber anywhere. The biggest thing for me is that I can get across central Tokyo in less than 30 minutes, which has allowed me to explore so much of this city in a jam-packed couple of days.
This is effective transit.
(at least from my personal experience)
Having this experience has made me realize what Atlanta could be with a better system. Personally, I could live at home if MARTA had a grid system within the perimeter, and the rush hour flow into and out of the city could be cut down immensely if rail options satisfied the demands of useful service.
All of this being said, effective transit can only truly be called that if it's also sustainable; it meets the demands of the three-legged stool model:
…be economically viable, environmentally conservative, and socially equitable
Our first transit tour (discussed in my previous entry) proved that JR East is economically viable; selling the land around the rail lines for retail brings in enough to make a profit sans government subsidies (as is the case in the US). This was also clear when we took the tour on Thursday through the sheer amount of funding for research, which is currently focused on the social and environmental development of transit. With one research center focused on environmental engineering, JR East has developed a rail system relying wholly on electricity (the US relies on gas when electric power is low). The company is also developing solar panel technology to be used in train stations. In the social realm, this JR East is designing Suica card readers that are shaped to accommodate people in wheelchairs, and they are also creating effective barriers to prevent people from jumping off the platform. Apart from what they're making, JR East is also focused on disaster prevention methods, testing out the strength of their concrete. As seen, a lot is being done to continually improve this already-developed system of transit.
In contrast, what we're seeing in the US is a lot of hype about Tesla, Uber, and Bird scooters, when none of them are actually reducing the amount of cars and emissions on the road. It makes me wonder why places like Atlanta aren't trying to grow their public transit system as their populations continue to grow, but apart from the politics around it, I think there are some distinct cultural reasons. We find value in private ownership so much in this country—in high school, owning a car can be a popularity status, and as an adult, owning luxury vehicles also show a higher status. Having to share transit with others—at least for now—is seen as lower class, whereas in Japan I've been able to see people of various wealth ride the train. In our country, a cultural shift may need to happen to fully bring about a major public transit system, used by all. Of course, this is an oversimplification, as our socio-economic and political landscape is much different than Japan. But after our tour of JR East, I believe this is the right direction of development.
The United States and Japan have different transportation systems. There are a few contributing factors as to why their transportation system differs. For the Japanese, the first mode of transportation is the transit system within cities and to other cities. In the United States, the first mode of transportation is personal vehicles, and then airplanes for travel to other cities. The United States has cities with public transit services such as New York’s Subway, Boston’s T, San Francisco’s BART, and Atlanta’s MARTA, with some being better than others. While there are rails that connect cities to one another in the United States, it’s not used. This makes the carbon footprint per capita much higher in the United States than in Japan. With a handful of transit systems the US has, they don’t always meet the critical elements of a good transit system.
Effective transit transportation must be convenient, reliable, affordable, and enjoyable. Japan’s transit systems meets all of these criteria. There is a train station within walking distance in Tokyo, which allows the people of Japan to get anywhere in the city without the use of a car. Whereas in Atlanta, the chances of a station being near you or near your destination are very low, often causing the passenger to have to take multiple modes of transportation or walk long distances. The Japanese transit system is reliable. The trains always arrive on time within the minute and frequently serve stations. In cities like New York, there is a higher reliability rate, but in Atlanta, the MARTA is not as frequent and late up to 5 minutes. The Japanese transit system ensures that the passenger has an enjoyable ride. The cleanliness of the trains is unmatched. Every train car and train station is clean and well kept. Unfortunately, there have been far too many times within any transit system in the US that has smelled of human urine. With MARTA, the system is not convenient, reliable, affordable, nor enjoyable for the entire population of Atlanta. However, the transit system in Tokyo is equitable and accessible by all of its inhabitants.
Not only is the transit system not as effective within cities, but the United States does not have an effective system connecting other cities. To begin with, the sheer land size of the United States and Japan differs. The United States is 9.8 million sq. kilometers, and Japan is 378 thousand sq. kilometers. Because of its size, it is easier to create a transit system that connects all of the cities for a country like Japan. However, its size is no reason why the United States does not have an effective transportation system. Europe is 10.18 million square kilometers, yet it has an extensive transit system connecting cities across its countryside. Europeans use the train system to commute and to travel, which resembles how the system would be used here in the United States as well. European trains service 460 billion-passenger kilometers in a year in 2017 and Japan serviced 10 billion people in 2015. The size of the United States should not deter the United States from having an affective transportation system that connects its cities together. It is simply that the United States does not prioritize sustainable transportation like many other parts of the world.
However, Rail companies in Japan such as the JR East do prioritize and understand the importance of sustainable transportation. JR East is a Japanese company that has created the rails that span over the country side of Japan as well as metro Tokyo. They have a research facility that focuses on the safety and engineering of new technology as well as the human experience of their trains and stations. They are creating ground breaking innovations such as train break pads, single-hinged catenary wires, and battery powered mixed electric trains to name a few. Not only does JR East create innovative engineering solutions, they are also dedicated to researching the development and reduction of environmental loads with building more energy efficient power plants, more renewable energy sources, sustainable building systems, and energy saving snow removal. Even though JR East is focusing on more sustainable transportation with innovative solutions, they still have the passenger in mind. They also test the visibility of their signs depending on the height of the ceiling. They are also researching more ways for the person to scan by just walking through the gates. The facility is consistently looking for ways to make the ride more enjoyable and easier on the passenger through innovative technology. Much like the rest of the Japanese transit system, JR East has the passenger in mind and ensures they are comfortable and safe. JR East’s efforts are a part of Japan’s sustainable transit system and help make Japan be an inspiration for the United States to emulate.
It is very clear after the in-class lectures and from my firsthand experience over the past week that Japan’s approach to sustainable transit far surpasses that of the United States. They equip their extensive network of trains and monorails with some of the worlds’ finest technology, and have privately-owned rail companies that invest in research and innovation. The Tokyo Transit system has mastered the elements of good transportation, creating a system that other forms of transportation are not able to compete with in terms of convenience and sustainability.
The most critical elements of providing good transit include having stops and stations in major hubs that are easily connected to each other. The Tokyo Metro does an excellent job of this - it has more than 170 stations around the entire city, with bigger stations in popular areas and business districts. A good deal of US transportation systems, on the other hand, do not typically consist of as many stopping places. Back home in Atlanta, MARTA receives criticism because it has very few stops, and many of the stations are not in easily accessible areas. Personally, I only ever really rely on MARTA when I’m in a pinch to get from the airport to Georgia Tech or from Georgia Tech to downtown. In Tokyo, we’ve been able to use the train system each day and locate a walkable station from wherever we are.
Another important element of good transit systems is frequency of arrivals and departures. Japanese trains have a very quick turnover –so far in Tokyo I’ve never had to wait more than five minutes for a train, whereas in the United States trains usually come in fifteen minute intervals. MARTA and similar US transit services can also experience delays and are often late, while the Japanese rail system is extremely timely. It helps that Japanese transit systems get the right of way and don’t have to account for traffic or sharing the rails as US transit services do. This reliability is an important element of good transportation because it gives customers an incentive to choose the railways over private transportation. Many Americans don’t use their local public transportation systems for this reason – the risk of being late to work or missing a connecting service outweighs the other benefits.
Source: Georgia State University
Our tour of the JR East facility showed me just how much money and research the Japanese have invested into making their transit system more sustainable and user-friendly. They are piloting solar panel blinds and window attachments to generate electricity for the station. They also are looking into technology that could capture the energy used when braking to conserve as much energy as possible. I thought it truly showed their commitment to being more sustainable that as a private company, they were taking the initiative to fund the development of a more energy-efficient system. JR East is also testing improvements that prolong the lifetime of the tracks and make the rail system more accessible to all customers. We got to tour their cement testing facility, where they are able to simulate the weight of a train on various types of concrete to test its durability. They also showed us new turnstiles that are more easily accessible for wheelchairs and an overhead system that can read Suica cards automatically. These sustainable improvements will save JR East money on energy while also reducing their energy demand and emissions.
Overall, exploring Tokyo’s transportation system has shown me that the US has a lot to learn from the Japanese in terms of providing effective and sustainable transit. Many of our transit systems struggle to meet the goals of good transit service, making private transportation the most desirable option to get around a metro area. JR East is constantly working to improve the sustainability, durability, and accessibility of their railways. If the US could invest in similar technologies, it would make public transportation more feasible for many people and reduce its energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
There are four main elements that good transit service requires. In all those areas, the US lags behind Japan. From our lectures in 3232 and “Does the Future of Mobility Depend on Public Transportation?” by Dr. Watkins, the four elements of good transit are:
If travel is a utility, then mobility must be a service
Spatial priority must be given to collective transportation modes
Focus first on service, then on technology
“Scientia potential est” – knowledge is power
During our tours, I witnessed Japan implementing these points.
In Tokyo, transit is a utility that anyone can use. While not all the stations are disability accessible, they are working towards adding more wheelchair friendly paths. I mentioned the rubber paths for blind people in my previous post, which makes me believe that Japan values mobility as a service for the people. JR East, a rail company in Tokyo, talked about their priorities as a company (see below). They valued passenger safety highly. By focusing on servicing people, Japan makes transportation sustainable because it benefits people socially by giving them access to any place they need to go. Compared to MARTA, the Tokyo transit massively out serves the Atlanta system. It’s hard to believe that the US values mobility as a service, if it is restricted to people who have access to cars. Many people in Atlanta have no means of getting around and thus live in food deserts/swamps where they can’t access healthy food.
In Tokyo, the trains rule. By that I mean that they have priority over other vehicles. By being in Japan, I’ve witnessed a hierarchy of transportation. Trains have the highest right of way, followed by people and bikes, then cars. People do have to wait at stop lights for cars, but in many places there are significantly more people walking than driving, and the allowed walk time seems to be longer than in the US. Of course, this wouldn’t be possible in the US because everything is so spread out. Even though we have a lower density, that shouldn’t stop us from getting better access to public transit. If anything, it makes it more important because everything is farther apart.
The US likes to try out new technology without really thinking about why it should be used. We talked about Hyperloop during lecture and how it’s being implemented in places where it’s not really necessary. Transportation should be used to fulfill a need in the community, and we should find technology to fit those needs. Not try to create needs that don’t exist to find uses for technology. JR is working on lines to decrease the travel time and decrease congestion on trains. As people use the system more and more, they are able to expand their services which then allows more people to use it.
Lastly, information must be available to the consumers. MARTA has their on the go app – which I haven’t used because they have the times in the stations and the map is really simple. I haven’t used the bus system, but the trains have been mostly on time. In Tokyo, there are train apps that I haven’t used either, but information about the system is readily available both inside and outside the trains. It would be cool to track the trains in live time, but it’s almost not necessary because the trains are always on time here.
I didn’t mean to bash the US in this blog, but I can’t think of many positives to our transit system, especially in Atlanta. There are plans to improve MARTA at least. Unfortunately, they will take at least a decade to implement and I’m not sure how some of the features, like streetcars will be effective if they have to compete with cars. I hope we can improve our transit system faster and follow some of the more successful systems in the world.
After residing in Tokyo for the past week, I have noticed the benefits of public transportation that the United States fails to offer. The United States is focusing on self-driving cars and Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) such as Uber and Lyft rather than public transportation services such as the subway and bus transit. While TNCs greatly reduce the stress and time involved with driving on the road, they fail to reduce the number of trips taken on the road as single occupant vehicles. Moreover, these implementations continue to gear towards a car-oriented environment, to which research has provided evidence of associated negative health outcomes. In Japan, however, car ownership and parking services are more expensive, which provides a greater incentive for people to take advantage of the public transit system. More specifically, the Japanese train system provides three types of service to ensure fast, efficient transportation for all of its users: express, rapid, and local. Thus, long-distance commuters can choose to take an express or rapid line, which do not stop at every station, to greatly reduce commute time to and from work and also help out those who are running late. With an emphasis on public transit services, Japan has become well-known for its sustainable train systems which have both achieved high safety and stability levels and made significant social contributions. Unlike the United States, Japan has also successfully addressed smart and sustainable transportation in not only its train systems but also its bike and walk accessibility.
To successfully provide a good transit service, a city, region, or country, must acquire the following seven components: connectivity between stations, frequency or span, fares, civility, reliability, simplicity, as well as speed or delay. The transit must stop near your start and stop destination, and there must also be a reasonable waiting time at each stop. Additionally, it is important to consider the safety and amenities (i.e. maps, vending machines, benches) provided by a transit service, including a reasonable and perhaps subsidized cost for each trip. The network covering all the available transit lines as well as its presentation must be simple enough for the commuter to easily remember and learn. In terms of civility, the transit system must provide a welcoming passenger environment in terms of cleanliness, appearance, helpful customer information, and sufficient station operators. After using Tokyo's public transit system for the past several days, I noticed that while Japan has successfully addressed all of the aforementioned components, the MARTA transit system back in Atlanta fails to do so. The waiting times are unreliable, and for frequent commuters, the ticket fare can be viewed on the pricier side. Furthermore, there also seems to be an insufficient number of workers, and the overall appearance at each station fails to establish a welcoming environment.
On Thursday, we visited JR East's Research and Development Facility, a railway company that works at the forefront of sustainable transportation. After touring their facilities, I learned that they are currently working on a new ticket gate to help wheelchair-bound individuals easily tap their train ticket or card on the machine. The ticket reader on current machines is located flat on the surface, which makes it hard for those on wheelchairs to reach the reader. To resolve this issue, their new machine will have a slanted surface on the side where the reader is located to improve usability for all commuters. Along with this innovation, JR East is also working on a different ticket gate that utilizes laser technology to detect commuters already carrying their train pass, to prevent the many issues that can arise from swiping or inserting a ticket into the machine. They are also designing solar-paneled blinds and earthquake-proof concrete for their respective energy conservation and disaster-relief initiatives.
With these cutting-edge technologies, it is clear that such developments are not to increase company profit or to elevate their reputation in the transportation industry. Rather, their goals are oriented towards the people of Japan, the millions of commuters who frequently utilize their services - all to continue driving the country towards a new generation of transportation, making it more sustainable and efficient as ever for a continuously increasing population living in an extremely dense area. As I embark on the travel leg next week, I hope to learn more about Japan's transit services and how it will improve sustainability in its future developments in accordance with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
The Tokyo transit system is an integral part of what allows the city to function the way it does. With a metro system that caters to around 8.5 million people daily, the most in the world, one would think the human experience would be the last feature in mind. However, the metro system is catered to insuring the passenger is comfortable and oriented. The Tokyo transit system is at the heart of Tokyo, and the human experience is at the heart of the transit system. Given the capacity of passengers, the cleanliness of the cars are fantastic. The cars and stations are kept in great condition. The first cart of some trains during non-peak hours is specifically reserved for women, pregnant women, elementary children, disabled, and elderly. The train cars are each air conditioned and adjusted to the amount of people detected after each stop. At the end of some of the stations, there is a blue light that is scientifically proven to elevate one’s mood. Suicide rates were reduced by 86% in stations were these blue lights were placed. There are also bird chirping noises, even when underground. The info graphics within the cars show where the exits are in comparison to the car you’re in to ensure you have the fastest exit. The features of the train station and the train have the passenger in mind.
Since these stations must be expansive and require multiple floors to house all of the lines traveling through, these stations have efficiently used the remainder of the land by commercializing the rest of the floors. Above the busiest stations, there is now even more of an incentive to come to these stations. With stations like Shinjuku and Tokyo, locals and tourists now flock to the stations for another purpose: retail shopping. Tokyo station caters to the infamous Ramen and Character Street whereas Shinjuku caters to multiple floors of department and boutique shops and food. While New York’s Grand Central Station has the Apple store, it does not compare to Shinjuku’s extensive retail floor plan. Since there are so many people moving through the station, it’s a great marketing strategy to have people walking through the hallways of its store. Not only is it a great marketing strategy for traveling passengers, it is a great strategy for the purpose of locating a mall.
If developers wanted to place a mall somewhere, why shouldn’t they look to placing it at a train system? If you want people to come to a mall, place it in a convenient location. The most convenient location is next to a train station. Train stations in Tokyo are highly regarded real estate. Office buildings will spring into the air wherever a train station is located. Development seems to have catered to the train stations. For instance, in Shinigawa, skyscrapers line the train station in all directions. At other stations, buildings surround all of the major train stations. The land surrounding the train stations is for offices and retail.
My last few days has been spent observing how Tokyo has created an expansive and effective transit system. For a city that has to move over 9 million people, its transit system needs to be effective and it certainly is. It certainly meets the elements of good transit system. Because of Tokyo’s comfortable and reliable transit system, millions of people are able to ride everyday and use the transit system as their main form of transportation.