Tuesday, October 05, 2004

U.S. Public Transports

TrappedinJapan was kind enough to comment on my article on the Shinkansen and took me to task with my overly rose colored glasses with which I view Japanese public transportation. In response, I'll clean up some of my assumptions and round out my arguments a little better.

As far as the cost of traveling on the Japanese bullet trains go, it was particularly cheap for us since we had the JR rail pass :)

Besides, compared to a domestic commuter flight in the U.S, the price is reasonable. I thought the size of the seating area was way better than the coach seats on the flight over were, and infinitely better than any bus.

As far as the smoking cars go, we were always sure to get reserved seats so that we wouldn't have to experience the horror that is the Shinkansen smoking car. Golden Week (when the entire friggin' country of Japan goes on vacation) is another event that I hope I go my whole life not experiencing.

It sucks that Japan would eliminate the cheaper, slower train routes that are being replaced by Shinkansen lines, but I still liked the convenience. If I want to go from Cleveland to Columbus, I have exactly one option: Drive.

That having been said, I gave the Japanese system A LOT of outs in the post. In the States, toll roads are known boondoggles where the money collected usually goes to something completely unrelated. I'd love to think that Japan's setup is different; that their road systems are expensive because of difficult terrain; but I'm not so naive as to think bureaucracies are all that different over there. As well, public transportation systems in the U.S. usually reek of the pork barrel bug. Nobody rides the things, at least not enough at a high enough price to pay for it. I guess what separates Japanese pork barrel projects from those in the States is that people actually use them.

I will also admit to being a bit infatuated with the bullet train idea. It's everything public transportation isn't in the States: safe, fast, clean (sans smoking car), convenient, and in the realm of affordability.

How about some math? Over at Sushicam, what's-his-name notes that a round trip Nozomi Shinkansen set him back about $140 and the trip took two and half hours. The distance between Cleveland and Cincinnati (a trip I make with some frequency) is about the same distance (maybe a little less) as his Tokyo to Kyoto trip. A round trip airline ticket between Cleveland and Cincinnati will set you back about $300 and will probably have a travel time comparable to driving (with security and all). It takes 4 hours to drive one way if you stop and get something to eat. A one way Amtrak ticket costs $81 and the total travel time is around 27 hours (and no, that's not a typo. And to further dispel any delusions, probably $100 of that ticket price is subsidized.). (My seven day JR pass cost $135)

With the gas taxes in Ohio we pay roughly two cents a mile, so that would mean about a $5 or $6 'virtual toll' (this does not take into account the massive amount of federal graft spending on highways). How high would the toll have to be between Cleveland and Cincinnati to get people to fork over $140 for the train? Astronomical. I can even be lenient and say that a comparable ticket over here would only run $100. But even then, would anyone ever ride the train? No; but it's a nice fantasy. I know the reality on the ground in Japan isn't all it's cracked up to be, but it's not entirely without it's appeal.

1 comment:

TrappedinJapan said...

Thank you, thank you! I enjoyed this post a lot more than the other. Kind of evened the score. Public transport is clean and relatively affordable etc. etc. The trains and buses are almost never late. It's generally a good system (and a great system if you are on a 3 month tourist visa and allowed to purchase the JR railpass- which is a discount you will likely need if you plan to pay to stay in Japanese hotels!) But, as you point out- it's not all it's cracked up to be. The Japanese have a saying: Shikata ga nai....nothing can be done. This works out well for the government. Whenever they decided to build a Shinkansen track in freezing, mountainous Niigata knowing full well that the tracks will have to be closed many times due to heavy snowfall during the winter months and the rest of the lines will have to increase prices to cover the losses, the Japanese people just sigh and say what a stupid move our governement has made, but shikata ga nai, then they dig a little deeper in their pockets and fork out the money to cover the blunder. It's things like these that get under the skin of an opinionated American. But hey, shikata ga nai....if you can't beat em, join em....