Hiroshima and Kyoto Public Transit Rider Experience

Like in Tokyo, we had the chance to experience public transit in Hiroshima and Kyoto. While neither has as big of a public transit system as Tokyo (because no city in the world has as big a public transit system as Tokyo), they both executed public transit well and have lessons of value to Boston. Continuing my promise to the MBTA Rider Oversight Committee, I have collected some notes to share.


There are no underground subways in Hiroshima. Public transit consists of a light rail network and bus system.

A comment on the Tokyo subway post noted that the defining feature of their Japanese public transit experience was that the system ran on time. Period. I agree with that comment. In every city we've been in, including Hiroshima, the trains and buses are exactly on schedule. I'm sure that delays happen, but I haven't experienced them yet.

One factor that I'm sure contributes to Hiroshima's on time performance is their deferred payment system. All the buses and trains in Hiroshima were pay on departure, not boarding. This surprised me because fare is based on distance traveled, so there is no set amount to expect from passengers when exiting the vehicle. Most passengers pay with a pre-loaded card that they scan upon boarding and deboarding, thereby allowing the system to automatically deduct the correct fare, but I am still not clear how Hiroshima ensures that cash paying customers pay the correct fare.

This modern tram car in Hiroshima runs on the same track as the adjacent old tram car.

This older tram car in Hiroshima runs on the same track as the adjacent modern tram car.

Many cars feature a conductor who stands at one of the designated exit doors to monitor the fare box. They also periodically circulate up and down the car to answer questions and provide change to any rider who needs change to make the correct fare.

While I'm not sure if Boston would ever want a deferred payment system, the rapidness of station stops because we are not waiting for passengers to feed fare into a box does make me dream about a Green Line that could run as efficiently.


Served by only two dedicated subway lines, the majority of the train service in Kyoto is through commuter rail trains that run into the city, making multiple stops in town that allow them to be used like a subway service.

Many of the wayfinding aids and styles used in Tokyo are ubiquitous in Japanese rail stations, such as numbering exits and displaying station maps.

This sign, which rotates between Japanese and English, tells riders that the doors of the train will be on the yellow and green markers on the floor from circle 1 to circle 7.

An innovation I've seen in all the train lines in Japan is marking on the floors of where the doors will be when the train arrives. Passengers will often line up at these markings so that they can quickly board when the train arrives. I'm sure that the amount of time saved by having the floor markers is not enormous, but it is another indicator of the level of attention to detail on the Japanese railway system.

Finally, The bus system of Kyoto was also much more extensive than that of Boston. Many of the most popular routes are serviced by several different bus routes, each with their own express level. I could take three or four buses to the same destination, but one would make eight stops and another only two.

The buses themselves are color coded for easy identification. Green buses are inner city buses while red ones go out to the suburbs. As a visitor, I could always tell quickly at a glance that the red bus wasn't the one I was looking for because I was staying in the city.

Recommendations for the MBTA

Based our experiences in Hiroshima and Kyoto, I would make the following recommendations to the T:

  • Number the station exits. This was my first takeaway from Tokyo and it still proves to be extremely helpful in Kyoto and would serve Boston well.
  • Consider marking boarding points on subway platforms. The time saving for riders would likely not be large, but every bit helps. Given the low effort nature of this change, I think it is worth considering.
  • Examine Charlie Card use outside of trains and buses. Becoming a form of payment for more than transit may be more than the MBTA would want to take on, but allowing the Charlie Card to be used as a form of payment in stores or at vending machines would give riders more reason to carry and load a Charlie Card. This in turn could lead to more use of the Charlie Card and decrease the number of people loading money on their Charlie Card every time they board a bus, causing delays. This could also be a possible source of revenue for the MBTA by charging a small administrative fee to the vendor for having a Charlie Card payment point.

Our time in Japan is drawing to a close. I'll be sure to share my experiences in China.