According to Digg,
The Tokyo Subway Just About Does Everything Right". If you think
installing sound deterrence machines that only younger people can hear
and whose sounds agitate teenagers to keep from congregating is a
"good thing", then you'd applaud Tokyo's attempts at behavior
modification. The CityLab article (below) says that New York is hoping to
do the same. Very interesting article. Go to website to see photos and
video, which I've removed here. (Interesting comments on NY's Joseph
- Mitchel Cohen
The New York City Subway system is quickly devolving into
mess of mismanagement and delays, which as the days tick by will only
cost more money and take more time
currently $19 billion, 50 years) to ultimately fix. And of course the
man tasked with running all of this, Joseph Lhota, happens to be
splitting his time between various lucrative side jobs. He is a
public servant who makes millions
doesn't believe he should be taxed to provide the necessary revenue
to fix the thing he is responsible for fixing.
If all of that fills with you with anger and disgust, well, do I have the
palate cleanser for you. This week, Tokyo native Allan Richarz wrote just
the nicest article about all of the subtle things the Tokyo Subway does
to make it
one of the best public transportation systems in the world.
Reading about how they use subtle design to encourage people to queue
properly around trains, lights to calm folks who are thinking about
jumping off the platform or relaxing jingles to ease the stress of the
inevitable rush-hour jams just makes you realize that government can
actually be good! Like, it is possible for a group of people to recognize
the societal importance of the thing they are running, and then instead
of using that as a political bargaining chip, actually make decisions
that improve the thing in real ways. It's clear that from all the ways
the Tokyo Metro attempts to work with it's massive ridership there is a
deep respect and care for its users that you just don't see here in New
Which isn't to say that there aren't people at the MTA who are trying to
do the same! Nor that the Tokyo Metro is perfect and without fault. I
think the level of outrage about the MTA isn't just that things are bad,
but rather things could be so much better. Public transportation
is vital to the health of the city, and to see those in power demonstrate
such a lack of respect for the responsibility they signed up for is just
so very, very disappointing.
The Amazing Psychology of Japanese Train
May 22, 2018
The nation’s famed mastery of rail travel has been aided by some
subtle behavioral tricks.
It is a scene that plays out each weekday morning across Tokyo.
Suit-clad office workers, gaggles of schoolchildren, and other travelers
gamely wend their way through the city’s sprawling rail
To the casual observer, it is chaos; commuters packed
shoulder-to-shoulder amid the constant clatter of arriving and departing
trains. But a closer look reveals something more beneath the surface: A
station may be packed, yet commuters move smoothly along concourses and
platforms. Platforms are a whirl of noisy activity, yet trains maintain
remarkable on-time performance. Indeed, the staggering punctuality of the
Japanese rail system occasionally becomes the focus of international
headlinesas on May 11, when West Japan Railways issued a florid apology
after one of its commuter trains
left the station 25 seconds early.
home to the world’s busiest train stations, with the capital’s rail
operators handling a
combined 13 billion passenger trips annually. Ridership of that
volume requires a deft blend of engineering, planning, and psychology.
Beneath the bustle, unobtrusive features are designed to unconsciously
manipulate passenger behavior, via light, sound, and other means. Japan’s
boundless creativity in this realm reflects the deep consideration given
to public transportation in the country.
Rail stations, whether in Japan or elsewhere, are also great places to
see “nudge theory” at work. Pioneered by behavioral economist Richard
Thaler, who was awarded the
2017 Nobel Memorial Prize for his work, and Harvard Law School
professor Cass Sunstein, the theory posits that gentle nudges can subtly
influence people towards decisions in their own (or society’s) best
interests, such as signing up for private pension
schemes or organ donation. In the U.K., there’s a government office
devoted to the idea, the
Insights Team (or
nudge unit”), and their work often shows up in the transit
In 2016, for instance, London Underground operator Transport for London
partnered with the behavioral science department at the London School of
Economics to develop ways of
encouraging riders to queue on both sides of station escalators as a
means of increasing their capacity in the capital’s Holborn Station.
Among other measures, simple hand and footprints were also painted on
each side of the “up” escalators. In Australia, researchers
conducted an experiment with lighted directional arrows on signposts
to improve flows of departing passengers. Using a camera system designed
to recognize and distinguish brisk-walking businesspeople from dawdling
tourists, for examplegreen arrows would flash to direct commuters in an
efficient route towards the exit.
When it come to passenger manipulation, what sets the stations of Japan
apart from their counterparts is both the ingenuity behind their nudges
and the imperceptible manner in which they are implemented. Japan’s
nudges reflect a higher order of thinking. The orderliness of society is
taken as a given - Japanese commuters know how to queue on an
escalator and can easily navigate the confusing, but wide-open,
spaces of Tokyo’s rail stations without assistance. This allows rail
operators to instead focus on deeper psychological manipulation.
The ultimate in mood lighting
Japan has one of the highest suicide rates among OECD nations,
and often, those taking their own lives do so by leaping from station
platforms into the path of oncoming trains, with Japan averaging
instance each day. It is a brutal, disruptive end that can also wreak
havoc across the transit system.
To address the issue, stations across Tokyo and the rest of Japan
installed chest-high barriers as a means of preventing suicide attempts.
But platform barriers are expensive, and about
70 percent of Japan's largest and most-travelled stations do not have
the platform space or structural strength to accommodate them. While
there are hopes to have platform barriers installed in all 243 of Tokyo’s
train stations by 2032 (at a cost of $4.7 billion), rail operators
in the interim have come up alternative approaches.
Standing at either end of a platform in Tokyo’s labyrinthine Shinjuku
Station, one might detect a small square LED panel emitting a pleasant,
deep-blue glow. Nestled among vending machines and safety posters, the
panel might be dismissed as a bug zapper. But these simple blue panels
are designed to save lives.
Operating on the theory that exposure to blue light has a
calming effect on one’s mood, rail stations in Japan began installing
these LED panels as a suicide-prevention measure in 2009. They are
strategically located at the ends of each platformtypically the
most-isolated and least-trafficked area, and accordingly, the point from
which most platform jumps occur. Some stations, such as
Shin-Koiwa Station in Tokyo, bolster their LED regime with colored
roof panels, allowing blue-tinted sunlight to filter down on to
It is an approach that has proven to be surprisingly effective. According
to a study by researchers at the University of Tokyo published in the
Journal of Affective Disorders in 2013, data analyzed over a 10-year
period shows an
84 percent decline in the number of suicide attempts at stations
where blue lights are installed. A subsequent study revealed
increase in suicide attempts at neighboring stations lacking such
The idea has been picked up in the U.K.: Several stations in
England now emulate the Japanese approach, with blue LED light panels
on station platforms.
A song for a more peaceful departure
Commuting during rush hour in Japan is not for the faint of heart.
The trains are jam-packed at as much as
capacity during the height of rush hour, and razor-thin connection
times to transfer from one train to another leave little margin for
error. Compounding the stressful nature of the commute in years past was
the nerve-grating tone - a harsh buzzer used to signal a train’s
imminent departure. The departing train buzzer was punctuated by sharp
blasts of station attendants’ whistles, as harried salarymen raced down
stairs and across platforms to beat the train’s closing doors.
To calm this stressful audio environment, in 1989 the major rail operator
JR East commissioned Yamaha and
melodies - short, ear-pleasing jingles to replace the
traditional departure buzzer.
Also known as departure or train melodies, hassha tunes are brief,
calming and distinct; their aim is to notify commuters of a train’s
imminent departure without inducing anxiety. To that end, most melodies
are composed to an optimal length of 7 seconds, owing to
research showing that shorter-duration melodies work best at reducing
passenger stress and rushing incidents, as well as taking into account
the time needed for a train to arrive and depart.
The tunes feature whimsical titles like “Seaside Boulevard” and range
from the wistful to the jaunty. Most stations have their own melodies,
forming de facto theme songs that become part of a station’s identity.
Tokyo’s Ebisu Station, for example, is known for its departure melodya
short, stylized version of the theme from The Third Man.
As more stations have added melodies over the years, the original thesis
has proven correct. A study conducted in October 2008 at Tokyo Station,
for instance, found a
percent reduction in the number of passenger injuries attributable to
rushing after the introduction of hassha melodies on certain
The use of these jingles is not without controversy, however. Shortly
after their introduction, residents living near open-air rail stations,
weary of hearing endless repetitions of the same jingles all day,
complained of noise pollution.
Despite, or perhaps because of, its reputation
as a remarkably safe country, Japan is nonetheless vigilant in
combatting youth delinquency. Train stations are particularly sensitive
in that regard, since large congregations of young people pass through
stations at all hours of the day.
To address the Japanese fear of loitering and vandalism by young riders,
some train stations deploy ultrasonic deterrents - small, unobtrusive
devices that emit a high-frequency tone. The particular frequency used --
17 kilohertz* -- can generally only be heard by those under the age of
25. (Older people can’t detect such frequencies, thanks to the
age-related hearing loss known as presbycusis.) These devices -- the
brainchild of a Welsh inventor and also used to fend off loitering
teens in the U.S. and Europe - have been enthusiastically adopted in
Standing outside one of Tokyo Station’s numerous exits on a recent summer
day, it was easy to see the effectiveness of this deterrent in action.
Weary salarymen and aged obaachan passed under the sonic deterrent
without changing pace. Among uniform -- clad students, however, the
reactions were evident -- a suddenly quickened pace, a look of confusion
or discomfort, and often a cry of urusai! (Loud!) None appeared to
connect the noise to the deterrents placed almost flush in the ceiling
Pointing the best way forward
Rail employees are not exempt from the behavioral hacks of their
employers. Perhaps most famously, Japanese train conductors, drivers, and
platform attendants are mandated to use the
point and call” methodcalled shisa kankoin executing tasks.
By physically pointing at an object, and then verbalizing one’s intended
action, a greater portion of the brain is engaged, providing improved
situational awareness and accuracy. Studies have repeatedly shown that
this technique reduces human error by as much as 85 percent.
Pointing-and-calling is now a major workplace safety feature in
industries throughout Japan.
So, why don’t train workers everywhere do this? Like so many aspects of
Japanese transit culture, shisa kanko has proved resistant to
export (though pointing-and-calling
has been adopted in modified form by New York City’s transit
authority). In this, as in so many things, Japan’s rail system stands
Allan Richarz is a privacy lawyer and writer based in Tokyo,