The Trains of Two Cities
Here's a little tale of two cities, or at least,
of the trains of two cities. May I play a little game, and call these
places 'A' and 'B' for a moment?
In City 'A', the trains and buses run quite
efficiently, the vehicles are clean and generally on time, and the
system is well organized, although very crowded during rush hours.
But there have been many problems recently with passengers avoiding
payment of the proper fares. In fact, cheating is rampant. Every few
months, stories appear in the newspaper describing the latest fare
scam, and how the transit authorities have moved to counter it.
Students, salaried workers, many segments of society play the 'game'
of trying to cheat the system. Passengers are even sometimes seen
jumping over the entrance barriers, in order to enter without
In City 'B' also, the system is very efficient.
Routes are well thought out, vehicles are new and clean, and the
trains and buses are well integrated. In this city though, jumping
over barriers is not a problem - there are none. To board a train,
one simply walks into the station, takes the escalator up to the
platforms, and steps into the first train that comes. Arriving at the
destination station, the procedure is reversed - off the train, down
the stairs, and out onto the street. There are no turnstiles, no
gates, no ticket collectors. It's not that the system is free, as
tickets are required to ride the vehicles, and vending machines for
these are found near the entrances to all stations. But the designers
of the system obviously feel that their populace can be trusted
enough to do away with checking everybody to see that they have paid
the fare. It is an 'honour' system.
So just where are these two cities? If I were to
tell you that they are (in no particular order) Vancouver and Tokyo,
would you be able to match the two of them with the descriptions
above? I suppose that those of you with no personal experience of
either of these two cities will perhaps identify Tokyo as the
'honest' city, and Vancouver, with its rather more individualistic
population, as the place with the cheating problem, but residents of
the two cities know better. It is the other way around, and it is the
Tokyo riders who play the fare 'games' so avidly. A recent story in
one of my Tokyo newspapers quoted officials of the railway companies
to the effect that lost revenue from the cheating was estimated to be
on the order of many billions of yen per year.
What are the motivations behind these patterns of
behaviour, which contradict our common images of Japanese people as
being extremely law-abiding, and Westerners as being more
'free-wheeling'? It seems to me that there are a few causes for the
Tokyo cheating - the first and strongest of which is the extremely
high cost of transportation in this city. Ticket prices are high, and
taking the trains day after day can run up very large monthly bills.
The incentive to cheat 'a little' is always there. The fierce
complexity of the system also encourages this in a way. With so many
routes, so many fare schemes, and so many different ways to calculate
the routing of a journey, attempts to 'shave' travel costs by artful
application of the rules is a completely legitimate procedure. But
the line between justifiable manipulation of the rules and outright
theft is perhaps sometimes unclear ... Another important factor is
one common in societies all over the world - the system is so large
and faceless, that it is easy to feel as though nobody is being
'hurt' by cheating. People who would never think of stealing a piece
of merchandise will cheat the train system without a second thought.
It just doesn't seem like 'stealing'.
How about those Vancouverites then - do all those
people thronging the stations each rush hour really have a ticket
nestled in their pocket? Well, although I suppose that most of them
do, I am sure that there are some who don't. I don't believe that
Japanese and Canadians are really that different, and that when faced
with similar environments, they probably behave in similar ways. The
motivation for cheating in the Vancouver system is much less; the
fares are cheaper, and the system is on such a smaller scale, that it
hardly seems worthwhile to cheat it. Then too, it isn't completely an
honour system, as there are random spot checks made occasionally to
see if everybody is carrying a ticket, with fines being levied on
those found to be cheating. Perhaps in reality there is just as much
cheating going on in Vancouver as in Tokyo, but the transit company
has decided that the cost of enforcement, with ticket barriers and
checkers, would be greater than the amount being lost to
But for Sadako and I, buying tickets and then
wandering around the station looking in vain for the entrance
barriers, it certainly was a pleasant feeling to realize that we were
'on our honour' to use the system properly. It's too bad that most of
our friends back in 'honest' Tokyo wouldn't believe us if we told
them about it ...