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Will Baude Would Have So Much Less Fun In Osaka, It's Lucky He Doesn't Speak Japanese

Will Baude questions how to get onto the least-crowded subway car on a metro station, based upon where the stairs are. He's playing around with the DC Metro, which whilst cleaner than New York's, is still a chaotic ant-hill designed by overly-hyper children compared to the sheer reason that is Japanese public transport. The explanation below will make more sense if you read his long and convoluted game-theory argument, but suffice it to say that planners in Osaka thought ahead of Mr. Baude and solved the problem already.

OK, the organization is less apparent in Tokyo than in Osaka, but it was immediately obvious on the old Hankyu line on which I commuted for a year. At the first stop--Takarazuka--the stairs came down right in front of the exits to the first train. At the next stop, the train from the upstairs platform was staggered by the length of a train car--meaning that the stairs came down in front of the second car. And so on, and so on, all the way to Umeda station (if it was a direct, express train) in which the main platform was right in front of the last car. Because of this, the natural momentum of passengers, and their habit of entering a car which was near the stairs, usually because they arrived just before the train was leaving, cars filled up in a gradual, logical, and ordered procession.

You can notice the same kind of system in the construction of the Tokyo metro, although it's a bit more convoluted and there are exceptions. (This is to be expected in places where there are more than two exits, and a number of complex levels above the station.) Nonetheless, station design normally looks like it's been planned with the movement of passengers in mind, which is a big change from what I recall in D.C.

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» A few further thoughts on the train game from Crescat Sententia
My post earlier about the strange game theoretic analysis of subway platforms has gotten a couple of responses, which makes me happy. Rather than append them to that already bloated post, I'll mention a few quickly here. Anthony Rickey notes... [Read More]

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Oh, I don't know about less fun! I admit to playing exactly the same find-the-space game when I've been on the London underground alone (or occasionally with like-minded geeks), and were a I not a car-hating hippie, I'd probably find that prime number game amusing, too. But having seen a piece on the BBC travel news about rail travel in Japan, I suspect I'd be revelling in its beauty, and the wonder of train drivers who're actually taught about the relationship between time, speed, and distance covered. Besides, if there are space shortages on Japanese trains, the game-playing angle could still help maximize the probability of finding a free seat, but you'd have to be aware of the organisational factors influencing people's behaviour at the various terminals. The resulting behaviour would probably be quite similar: begin with a strong prior belief that the minimum-effort strategy of waiting by the stairs will pay off, and only change it if you believe you've gathered enough evidence to sway that. It's just that in Japan, the basic strategy has been engineered with travel and service to the public in mind, and in the west in general, it's developed from apathy combined with a population of seasoned commuters trying to minimize their own inconvenience.

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