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Everyone knows Japan is a transit heaven, a carefully coordinated orchestra of trains and buses that shepherds what amounts to the entire population of Switzerland on any given day. Having moved from Switzerland, the other transit heaven, the one thing that I miss the most is a nationally unified transport structure that, coupled with an elegant digital app, could get you to your destination with the least hassle and headache, where that could be anywhere to the other side of the European continent, the top of Jungfrau, or just around the corner.
But I digress.
The goal of this exercise is to explore an app and identify nuances that make it particularly relevant to Japan, and see where components of it can be made useful to the rest of the world (or not). Today’s app is one that helps Tokyo-ites navigate through the complex interconnections of transit: Yahoo Noriake Annai (Yahoo Transit)
This is the first screen you see when you open the app up. I’ve taken the liberty to annotate the buttons with my own translations.
(You can hover over each image to see what it looks like without the translations. It might take a while to load, so please be patient.)
In this case I’m setting up a scenario where I want to travel from my home to Asakusa.
If you click on the little man icon you get to the “Transfer timing settings” page, where you get to set the kind of routing aggressiveness you prefer. I found it interesting that they ranked it by familiarity with the route, rather than a pure time-based approach.
I clicked on the voice icon on the top right, and an overlay pops up indiciating that I can say something along the lines of “From X to Y”.
If you click on the transit options icon, you get the following screen. It prices the fares for whether you’re using a smart card (you get a small discount if you do) or cash, and if you’re willing to consider shinkansen or other pricier reserved seating trains in your route.
Once you’ve selected your starting point and destination, this is what you see:
This menu first lets you choose between rides (for example, if you miss the 7:55 train, you can hit the right arrow to get the next train).
The choices in this sub tab allow you to toggle between fastest (by time), easiest (by number of transfers), or cheapest (by price):
The first row in the list has all three badges, which indicate it’s probably the best route to take.
Clicking on a row brings you to something like the next screen (I’ve chosen a more circuitous route, so that you can see all the various options with each transfer). Again, hover (and wait) to see what it looks like without the annotations.
I wanted to dive a little more into two features I thought were particularly relevant to Japan: the alarm and the train position map.
One thing you’ll notice is that trains are really long in Japan. If you take the Shinjuku or Mita subway line, some of their trains use 10 carriages of the 10-300 class, bringing the train length to 201.5 meters, or 661ft. By comparison, the NYC subway’s longest R44/R46/R68 configurations are less than half that length, at 91.44 meters.
The train position map highlights the areas of the train you’ll want to be standing in so that when you arrive into your transfer station, you’re in front of the easiest access point to connect. These may mean that as the doors open you’re in front of the exit, should you need to leave the station to transfer, or in front of stairs/escalators/elevators that lead you to the transfer platform, or on the platform immediately opposite the transfer.
The alarm feature lets the app alert you several minutes before arrival at any of the stations that you would need to get off at in order to successfully transfer. It might be a useful feature for the tired salaryman liable to doze off, except the horror of an alarm going off inside a quiet train in Japan, coupled with what I like to think is a genetic predisposition to waking up just before one’s station arrives, makes this feature a bit of overkill, in my opinion.
The route overview map is fairly generic, and highlights the starting and ending points of the journey.
There are a lot of other features in this app that I haven’t included here, mostly because their utility was unclear to me or because it felt obvious that one would include such information within a transit app (like information about potential interruptions to transit, or a plain timetable). I think the main takeaways for me are: