Japanese-style transport efficiency

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PIA MANALASTAS 

Arriving in Narita after a red-eye flight, my friend and I easily found the ticket counter for the airport limousine bus and booked a ticket to Tokyo, which was about a two-hour trip. It was literally a door-to-door service that brought two sleepy travelers from the airport to our hotel.

Peering out of our hotel window the next morning, I, in shock and awe, told my friend that the streets were empty.
It was about 8:00 a.m., and there was no rush hour traffic! I was surprised because we were across the street from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. I was expecting Manila-like traffic given that this building houses the offices of the metropolitan government of Tokyo. But, as my friend reminded me, people do not drive here. They commute via a very complex, yet efficient, public transportation system.

After a hearty breakfast, we set off on our first foray into this system. After a 600-meter walk, we reached the station. We reloaded our IC cards (rechargeable cards that can be used to pay fares on public transportation and to make payments at vending machines, shops and restaurants) and entered the station to catch our train.

What astounded me was that when the schedule showed train was arriving at 10:14, it would be there at exactly 10:14! While the arriving train was full, people stayed in their queues, allowing disembarking passengers to exit. We were not able to get on this train, but it was not a big deal. The next train came exactly two minutes after, and this time, we were able to board. Even if this was our first time to go to Shinjuku Gyoen, we did not get lost. Each stop was announced in both Japanese and English.


That afternoon, we experienced another mode of transportation, the taxi. The driver was dressed in a dark suit, cap and gloves. His taxi was immaculate, and while he was not familiar with the restaurant we wanted to go to, he quickly keyed in our destination on his GPS. At the height of what would have been early evening rush hour traffic in another major city, we arrived at our destination in 15 minutes. I asked my friend to track our progress in Waze. We noted that our driver had brought us to the restaurant using the quickest route. No circuitous routes even if we were tourists. The only surprise we got was the cost – 2,650 yen (P1,325 pesos)!

The rest of our trip was hallmarked with the same transport ease and efficiency. A planned overnight trip to see Mt. Fuji was easily achieved. Our bus left on time and traveled on well-paved and traffic-free roads.

Those who know me marvel at the fact that I take public transportation when I travel. And I shamefully admit that I am more familiar with the Hong Kong and Washington D.C. subway systems than with Manila’s. While Manila’s train system still has a long way to go to match the efficiency of Tokyo’s system (even the DC subway system pales in comparison. Tokyo’s has clean restrooms and machines that sell hot and cold drinks!). Here are two suggestions that can encourage more mass transit use: have well-maintained buses and trains that run safely and arrive on time, and have stations that are chaos-free and connected to the commuter’s office building or key tourist spots.

The author is an assistant professor at the Management and Organization Department of De La Salle University. She is currently enjoying her sabbatical. Email: pia.manalastas@dlsu.edu.ph

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