The Tokyo Metro system is another that is widely regarded as best in class. Perhaps it is best known for its nearly inconceivable punctuality. In 2018, the service felt it had to release an apology for a timing error. The issue? One of the trains had left the station an unforgivable 25 seconds early. This kind of precision is laughable to people who are used to other, less smoothly coordinated public transit systems, but it’s the key to Tokyo’s system’s success.
The system also stands out for its unique privately owned operating arrangement. The arrangement has seen an adjustment as the population of the region continues to urbanize, consolidating around the massive and dense Tokyo metropolitan area. Today, the system hosts many of the world’s busiest train stations, providing a staggering 13 billion passenger trips every year.
One thing that stands out about the system is the attention to detail in the midst of such a crowded, chaotic scene. The stations feature calming blue LED lights designed to provide relaxation and composer-commissioned chimes in place of harsh departure buzzers. These efforts coupled with clear signage and a cultural norm of order amongst busy hustle means that the crowded train stations operate in an impressively smooth way.
Once a local teaches you how to use the system, it is GREAT!! But please avoid rush hour and special events, like parades, sporting events, and festivals.
Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway (better known as MTR) is widely regarded as the best in the world. Its reputation is not only a marker of its technological and logistical success, but also its clear attention to customer service. Made up of 11 separate subway lines, MTR is a daily transportation option for more than 5 million people. In order to accomplish that feat, it relies on 155 stations and has an impressive 99.9 percent “on time” rate.
Its highly regarded customer service experience is made possible by the inclusion of signs in different languages (including English) and customer service representatives trained to communicate with tourists as well as locals. It is also very affordable. Frequent travelers can get an “Octopus card,” which enables them to swipe into the system with ease and provides an 8% discount on fares.
MTR is also recognized for its financial success. While many mass transit systems end up losing money and relying on taxes and government subsidies to stay operational, Hong Kong’s system boasts considerable profit margins. This is because the MTR system has tapped into its unique position as a transportation provider in one of the world’s densest cities. MTR has partnered with businesses that rely on it to succeed. By getting a cut of sales profits, receiving a percentage of development fees, or even having full ownership over properties where shops are located, MTR has ensured a symbiotic relationship between the movement of people and the purchasing of goods.
I thought it was straight forward, easy to use, and quite efficient. And not too crowded.
Known affectionately as “the Tube,” the London Underground rail network is highly regarded and frequently put as the winner in head-to-head competition with other systems like New York’s subway. Divided into nine zones and connected with 11 Tube lines, the system serves 1.37 billion people each year, making it one of the world’s busiest.
As the name suggests, many of the 249 miles of interconnected pathways are located beneath the city, hidden from the public eye. The system also has historical significance, as it is a direct predecessor of the Metropolitan Railway, the world’s first underground rail system. The wooden carriages powered by steam engines have come a long way over the years. Today, the system is modern, innovative, and incredibly reliable.
Again, easy to use, not quite as efficient as the metros in Asia. It is old, dark and dank. But quite reliable.
Not mentioned: Moscow, my favorite because of their artistically beautiful, and cool (air conditioned) underground stations. It is the fourth longest in the world. Average daily ridership is around 7 million, peak was 9.71 million!! Russian engineering is impressive!
The Moscow Metro opened in 1935 under the Stalin regime.
The system’s stations were designed to celebrate and reinforce Russia’s socialist dictatorship, with elaborate decorations and spectacular dimensions intended to act as subterranean ‘people’s palaces’. These stunning spaces were as much a destination as the above-ground districts they served and inspired awe from German playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht, who was present for the metro’s opening, both in their aesthetics and in the political message behind them.
“Now that the train line was built according to the most ideal models / And the owners came to view / And to ride on it, they were the very same / Ones who had built it,” reads a translation of Brecht’s poem ‘The Moscow Workers Take possession of the Great Metro on April 27th 1935′.
I am sure each of you have a favorite. I took the Tube each day for two weeks to Wimbledon, very reliable, and timely. I took the HK Metro every day for almost two weeks, even more efficient. Same or even better in Tokyo. But the Moscow Metro was similar to visiting a museum at each underground station!