3 Oct 18

Tokyo Mobility Indexes

With its 38 million inhabitants, Tokyo is the world’s largest Metropolitan area. Part of the Metropolitan area is Tokyo city, 14 million population spread over 23 Wards (city subdivisions). Population density is 6,267 people per square kilometre across an area of 2,190 square kilometre.

Public transport

Tokyo benefits from an extremely well-performing and omnipresent public transport system, offering a combination of metro, bus, light rail, ferry and commuter rail, all either public or privately operated. Accessibility of the public transport system is exceptional; everyone who lives in the Tokyo prefecture can access either means of public transport within a 5 minute walk.

Payment of public transport is fairly easy. Tickets are available in each station and on the buses, but due to the different “brands” of public transport, multiple tickets for one journey might be required. The easier system is by using a Pasmo or Suica, pre-charged cards that work on each network and also allow the user to pay for taxi and even in convenience stores (7/11, Lawson’s, Family Mart) or vending machines. Pasmo and Suica cards are available in all major stations.

Shinjuku Station

The only issue, especially for people who are not used to the extensive network, might be the complexity of the system. Major stations, such as Shinjuku station, combine various “brands” and “types” of public transport that won’t always operate with the same ticket. An example of this complexity is Japan’s busiest combined public transport station, Shinjuku. Over 3 million people a day transit through this maze of over 200 entrances and exits, over 50 platforms, kilometres of corridors, underground shopping arcades,… 6 different train lines are active in Shinjuku:

  • Japan Rail East (Public, 6 lines, almost a million daily users)
  • Keio Corporation (Private, 2 lines, almost a million daily users)
  • Odakyu Electric Railway (Private, 1 line, almost half a million daily users)
  • Toei Subway (Public, 2 lines, almost half a million daily users)
  • Tokyo Metro (Public, 1 line, about a quarter of million daily users)

Taking into consideration that each line, e.g. the Odakyu line, operates local (stops at each station), Express (major stations), Rapid express (less stations and higher speed) and Limited express (just a couple of stations, but faster) trains that are spread over 3 different floors and 10 platforms in Shinjuku station, the complexity only multiplies.

Navigating through Shinjuku station requires a sharp eye for the right railway identifiers (a combination of a logo, color, number or letter combination) and an understanding of how the Japanese mind works: “unless stated differently, walk ahead, even if it takes 30 minutes”. It’s not uncommon to see desperate tourists, station map in one hand, wiping sweat from their foreheads with the other hand, looking for a way out of the station and determined never to enter again.

Takushii o yonde kudasai

Get me a taxi – or the easier way to move around in Tokyo. It’s easy to catch one of Tokyo’s 35,000 taxis from literally anywhere in the city. Taxis are rarely station based and will drive around until finding a passenger. Catching a taxi happens by standing at the side of the street and waiving at them; attention, free taxis have a red sign displayed, which is confusing for Westerners who associate red with “no”.

Entering a taxi is a special experience: you’re not expected to touch the left rear passenger door. A mechanic or electric lever will open the door for you and once the taxi driver has carefully checked if you’re comfortably seated, the door will close automatically. Best is to have your destination written down on a piece of paper; it’s unlikely that the driver will understand a vague description in English of your destination.

Most of the Japanese taxi drivers are older gentlemen, but a younger generation is slowly taking over. All of them wear dark suits, white shirt and tie and will often wear white gloves. Taxis are impeccable, outside and inside, offer various payments methods (cash, credit card, Pasmo and Suica) and most of them will have an infotainment screen for the back passenger as well as an iPhone and mini-USB charger.

King Car

Even if public transport is omnipresent and affordable, it is only used for 19% of all transits. 45% of the journeys are done by car (taxi or private car), 16% by bicycle and 19% by walking. Not everyone owns a car, as a car registration requires proof of a dedicated (and expensive) parking lot, but alternatives such as Times Car Plus, the major ultra-short term rental company in Tokyo, are extremely popular.

As long as your Japanese is good enough, it’s simple to book a Times Car Plus. It’s a station based solution, with over 10,000 stations across Japan of which a majority in Tokyo. Register for a subscription, receive chip card to open the car, book the car on the mobile phone app (unfortunately only on the Japanese app stores), go to the closest station and start driving. Fuel is included in the rental cost (a fuel card is provided) and the pricing is reasonable (JPY 4000 / US$35 / EUR30 for 6 hours).

Tokyo Smart Mobility

Car sharing and ride hailing solutions are (almost) not available in Tokyo. Uber has been trying for years to have a share of the city’s US$ 16 billion taxi market, but push-back from the taxi lobby and the regulators has been tough. The taxi industry itself is catching up and is trying to reinvent itself as mobility providers.The city is massively investing in new technologies and has already today more EV charging points than gas stations. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government is also covering the cost for the installation of EV charging points in residential areas. As Japan believes that hydrogen will play an important role, investments in refuelling stations are already confirmed and the implementation of autonomous vehicles will be a fact by the 2020 Olympics.

With 35% of all transits, especially the first-mile and last-mile transits, being non-motorised (walking or cycling), there’s a good business case for expanding and developing dedicated bicycle lanes. Today, it’s still allowed for cyclists to use the pavement and/or the streets, which is nor safe, nor efficient.

Tokyo’s biggest challenges are related to the coordination between private and public initiatives. Collaboration with the private sector would enable solutions towards a smoother rush hour traffic, a better integration of alternative mobility as a seamless part of daily transits and, overall, a better and easier user experience.

Authored by: Yves Helven