Today, we took trips to the Japan Railway Museum and the Japan Rail (JR) East Research facility. We got to explore the history of the railway and get sneak peeks into the makings of the present of the transit services and get a glimpse of the future of the JR. From these trips and the information gained from them, I can now see what makes a good and sustainable transit system and how Japan’s rail system compares to the good old USA.
The JR and US transit systems differ greatly, with Japan having a very far lead in transit sustainability over the US. For the US, it seems as though the US transits are more concerned with having the most updated technology available for passengers, without taking an equal amount of concern towards on access to these systems, easier understanding of the stations themselves, and efficiency of the trains in general in reference to timeliness, cleanliness, and safety. For Japan railway systems, it is the complete opposite. Their main focus is on providing a safe, understandable, convenient service to the passengers to ensure they get to their desired destination on time, without confusion or interruption. Furthermore, the technology being used is nothing to turn a blind eye to, as Japan’s technology is very up to date with new innovations in more efficient transit travel on the way in the near future. These focuses prove to make the JR transits far more sustainable than their US counterparts, purely because they stick to the critical elements to provide good transit service.
Now, what are these critical elements to provide good transit service? Well these can be summarized into four simple points: mobility must be a service, space is a priority, service is first, and knowledge is power. If travel is a utility, then mobility must be a service. A transit system has to create seamless travel with collective transportation as the backbone in order to make a system efficient, and good information and minimal delay has to be provided to have mobility transformed into a high-quality utility. Spatial priority must be given to collective transportation modes with exclusive right-of-way given to transit services, for with our current society, efficiency of travel is interrupted by regular workday traffic with no incentive to share the road. The focus needs to first be on service, then on technology, because if you have the best tech but then no way to use it efficiently or to even get people to have access to it, then how does that prove sustainable in the long run at all? (it doesn’t) Lastly, knowledge is power, and before applying the latest tech, knowledge on how to improve the sustainability of the current system is crucial to master, because once you understand what you have and what you need, then you can work to improve the problems already present to even have the availability to add new tech in the future.
On this note, for JR East specifically, some of their newest initiatives in improving their transit systems are more centered around the areas of customer convenience and safety. We were shown a new project on the gating systems when boarding and departing the trains. Currently they have a simple sliding door system that activates when a train arrives and departs. The project they showed us however is actually a whole fence-like barrier between the passengers and the train that ascends and descends upon arrival and departure of the train. This will increase customer safety and further decrease the chances of people committing suicides on the railways. Another project shown was an improved version of the Suica card scanner where the scanning part is at an angle and also above the customer suspended from the ceiling. The tilted gate gives easier access to handicapped passengers in wheelchairs and shorter customers to scan their card with less strain, and the suspended scanner eliminates the need to touch a card on a scanner at all, as the scanner will just scan your card from your pocket! With these new innovations, I am confident this will keep Japan in the lead for sustainable transit systems, and will make an example of a transit network the rest of the world should take notes from and replicate.