The trains in Tokyo are crowded. Can’t-move-your-arms-to-scratch-your-nose crowded. Ride in Tokyo rush hour, and you have the exciting chance to be part of a can of spam, seasoned with business suits and briefcases.
It would seem sane to try to ride outside of the worst of peak hour. Thanks to a flexible workplace policy, this is what I do. However, many Japanese offices have rigid starting times. If you are not in the door by 9am, heaven help you. Additionally, working overtime is highly regarded, but getting to work early… not so much. So of course, the rational thing to do would be to step foot in the office at the stroke of 9am.
Perhaps you can see where the problem lies: waves and waves of packed trains with people aiming to arrive at the same place at the same time. So, how do you change those super-peaks of commuters into a more even distribution across time?
Everyone loves loyalty card schemes in Japan. Lots of restaurants and shops will give you a stamp card to get some kind of modest freebie down the track, and happily, they don’t seek to mine your personal information like some schemes I could name (or link to).
So, someone had An Idea. People like points, they reasoned. If we offered points for commuters moving their travel outside the normal peak hour, could we change commuter behaviour and alleviate the worst of it?
Enter the “East-West Line Waking-Up-Early Campaign”:
Just touch your commuter pass to the glowing hexagon to rack up points:
To give you an idea of the rewards, the best case has 10 weeks of consistently travelling before 7am netting you a $35 gift card:
Anticipated result: happiness (on a spiritual level, I’m assuming):
So, how did that go, then?
Not so well, at a guess.
The machines got taken away some time ago, never to be seen again. By most accounts, peak hour is still unbearable as ever.
Nice try, behavioural economists, but it seems you’re going to have to work a little harder to manipulate the citizenry. Still, why people need to be manipulated to avoid getting treated in a way that would make cattle stand up and complain is a mystery.