Over the course of this past week, by attending lectures and familiarizing myself with the Japanese transportation system, I have gained greater insight on various approaches to sustainable and effective transportation. There are notable differences between sustainable transportation between the United States and Japan. The United States relies heavily on private transportation, which does not prove to be sustainable as the majority of the time people drive in cars that are not fully occupied. This results in an unnecessarily high number of cars on the road, increasing emission levels and crowding roads. As a student from the busy city of Atlanta, I can attest that commuting to and from the city is absolutely horrendous with the tremendous amount of traffic. However, despite this inconvenience, the alternate option of public transportation is a nightmare. Atlanta’s MARTA system has time after time has proven to be unreliable with buses failing to arrive on time and trains with seats that are falling apart at the seams. The lack of prioritization on public transportation has only discouraged its usage and has increased preference towards private, less sustainable transportation.
A MARTA Breeze card, which I have used once over the past year
On the contrary, the majority of transportation in Japan consists of public transportation or non-motorized forms of transportation, with as little as 10% of transportation involving usage of motorized vehicles. Private companies invest vast amounts of funds Japan’s extensive metro system, which furthers its development and efficiency. This has made public transportation the preferred option for Japanese residents, and even as a tourist here, I have only used the transit system and my own two feet to get around. Because Japan is so densely populated, most development is concentrated in one area, making walking to and from places extremely easy. Biking is another popular option for Japanese residents, and even on busy streets, I have noticed people traveling on bicycles. These forms of transportation are far more sustainable options and minimize the number of vehicles with unused space.
Traveling within a Japanese rail station
There exist seven elements of providing an effective transit service, which Japan’s transit system serves as an excellent model for. These characteristics are that it takes me where I want to go, takes me when I want to go, is a good use of my time, is a good use of my money, respects me, I can trust it, and gives me the freedom to change my plans. The first element of it taking me where I go involves providing stops that are proximate to the destination as well as allowing passengers to connect to stops. However, the timing of the trains also has to appropriately serve its users. It is important the transit offers a convenient train schedule and minimizes wait time. It must be a good use of time by providing speedy transportation with minimal delays. Effective transit is also a good use of money, providing an affordable and cost-efficient option. The transit must also ensure safety as well as be a reliable service. The last element of an effective transit involves giving freedom to change plans, which means providing a network that is simple and easy to learn and remember. Even with amazing features in place, they will be rendered useless if the users cannot easily navigate and understand how the system works. Although Japan meets the criteria of an effective transit system, it is actively working to improve these elements to maintain the system’s top-notch service.
Informational signs within a Japanese rail station
JR East is a railway company that conducts extensive research to continually improve the functionality and sustainability of the railways in Japan. They provided my study abroad group a tour of their facility, where we were able to learn about their latest initiatives. In light of a recent derailment accident, they are currently focusing on developing a car location detection system and a warning system that alarms when there is an imbalance in the wheels. This works to improve both the safety and reliability of the transit system. This company is also researching ways to use renewable energy sources and create power storage systems to eliminate any wasted energy. Additionally, they are working to create a train with an even higher speed than the current high-speed Shinkansen train. This is working toward further saving the time of its users. Japan is clearly putting in admirable effort to create a superb transportation system. Their efforts to create more sustainable transportation has most definitely encouraged me to strive towards a path toward sustainable transportation back in the United States.
A handout and hardhat from the JR East tour