Trains, trams and customer experience

Whilst in Japan in January, I used the train services quite a lot. Japan is a very densely populated nation and major cities such as Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka are particularly crowded. However the country is somewhat legendary for its efficient and effective train services. Trains are a popular, reliable and speedy way of travelling between major cities in Japan; the trains are clean, signage is clear and you feel safe.

Check out the following two videos showing how Japanese trains stop precisely where they are supposed to (also, I have no idea what the Italian guys are saying…):

Much of this efficient and effective service undoubtedly comes from outstanding infrastructure, timetabling, technology and diligent employees – all of which fall under the responsibility of the operating companies and/or the government. However for the train services to run as planned, it requires passengers to co-operate with the system and other customers.

Customer experience

In the case of public transport, a good* customer experience is often reliant on the behavior and attitudes of other customers. Public transport is a relatively unique situation in our lives when personal space is not respected. No matter how good the public transport service is, if another passenger in our immediate area is disruptive, rude or abusive, the journey experience will be poor. What’s more, a passenger on another train, or on another line, can also affect someone’s journey, such is the interwined and inter-reliant nature of train travel.

(* For the purposes of public transport, I am classifying a ‘good’ experience as one that is happily uneventful!)

The Japanese rail services set clear expectations of passenger behaviour, and these are most often respected. Though I believe some of this behaviour can be attributed to cultural conditioning (cultural/social anthropologists – feel free to step in!), rail passengers understand that respecting the requests made by the rail operators will contribute to a journey that runs on time, is free of disruptions and pleasant for all passengers.

Or maybe they are just shamed into it (see photo below)!?

Photo of a sign in a Japanese train: It's painful to get caught between the closing doors. Even more so are the eyes of those looking at you.

These are some of the ways in which Japanese rail operators facilitate a good customer experience, and encourage passengers to respect each other:

Photo of the back of a train seat with a map of the surrounding carriages

Photo of people queuing in a line to board a train

Women-only carriages

Marks on the ground indicating position of train doors

[As an aside, I noticed a similar floor-marking concept to this Japanese one has been introduced into Paris' metro, whereby yellow marks on the ground show commuters where to stand in order to board the arriving train without getting in the way of people getting off. In typical Parisian fashion, no-one was paying attention to these marks, and it was just as difficult as it always has been to fight your way into the carriage! Granted, this is a new concept, but I find there is a large gap between the efficiencies found in the way Japan manages their population (as well as the citizens' acquiescence) and the French culture.]

Recent improvements to Melbourne trams

Anyway, this leads me to something I noticed after arriving back home in Melbourne. Yarra Trams have recently revamped the look of the trams’ exterior (or livery, which I believe is the technical term).

Photo of the new Yarra Trams livery

The main difference between this new design and the older one is that the doors are now outlined in yellow. Not only is this new design safer for customers, but it also gives them more information about the location of the doors so it is easier to work out where to stand in order to board the approaching tram.

Melbourne is nowhere near as densely populated as Tokyo, but as we move towards the future with a greater focus on public transport (and a rapidly growing population!), it will be important for the network to become more robust, efficient and effective. Not only that, but greater respect of passengers for each other (and the rules!) should be encouraged to help us all to get where we’re going just that bit faster.

I’d be interested to hear what measures public transport organisations are taking in your city to improve the experience of the commuter. Tell me about it in the comments!

service design

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