Japan - Where's the gadgetbahn? - 2
Leroy W. Demery, Jr.
As asserted previously, I am a skeptic when it comes to the concept of Personal Rapid Transit (PRT). I believe that, if there is a country where (PRT) "should" work and "should" already have been built, it's Japan. Furthermore, I have seen specific locations that, from the perspective of empirical observation of the built environment, appear "tailor-made" for PRT. I assert that it is perfectly reasonable to ask, with reference to these specific locations, "Where's the PRT?" The dialogue on this particular topic might prove very interesting.
(I have also stated previously that neither I nor my associate, Michael D. Setty coined the word gadgetbahn. I shall consider myself free to use "that word" with impunity, with reference to PRT or other public transport technology or service, prospective or not, for as long as my name or that of Michael Setty is associated with its coining.)
I shall restate my underlying thesis as follows: characteristics of a service, market for that service and technology deployed to provide that service are three discrete aspects that must be considered separately. PRT cannot plausibly be "sold," so to speak, as a "bundle" of concepts (service, market and technology), not subject to "disaggregation."
Longtime PRT critic Ken Avidor asserts that:
PRT is not a technology, but an argument - the argument is that there is no need to  invest in expensive rail projects because we will be saved by a miraculous  deus-ex-machina techno-fix that will never arrive.
I am well aware that one who dares to quote, or even to name, the infamous bête noire "Avidor" while discussing PRT should anticipate a certain category of "kiss of death" reactions (... in addition to various and sundry "flames"). I assert that such are intellectually analogous to racism - which of course I would not tolerate (I am confident that I can defend this association to persons open to persuasion). Moreover, anticipating that such responses are inevitable, I shall refer hereinafter to the assertion above as "Avidor's Challenge."
I bring this up to support my assertion that, with reference to specific markets, having significant (apparent) potential for commercial PRT application, it is perfectly reasonable to ask, "Where's the PRT?" If this question is not reasonable, then perhaps "Avidor's Challenge" is correct.
Tsukuba: Where's the PRT? - 2.1
Tsukuba city (つくば市) is located about 60 km northeast of central Tōkyō. (つくば市 is the official website in Japanese; Tsukuba, Ibaraki and つくば市 are the English- and Japanese-language "Wikipedia" pages, respectively.) The estimated population, at August 1, 2010, was 214,811. The land area was 284.07 km2 (crude population density statistics for Japanese cities are often highly misleading because municipal boundaries may include significant areas of agricultural or uninhabitable land).
Tsukuba city was developed as an "academic new town" from 1963, to accelerate and improve scientific discovery in Japan. A major center for higher education and scientific research, it is known as one of the world's largest coordinated projects of this type. From the mid-1980s, approximately half of Japan's publicly-funded research and development has been conducted here.
The central academic and research area is named 筑波研究学園都市 ("Tsukuba Academic New Town") in Japanese and is known in English as Tsukuba Science City.  Approximately 13,000 researchers work here.
Some form of <NTS> system - technology unspecified - has been planned for Tsukuba city from 1980, and probably well before that (鉄道新線計画と周辺開発産, Tetsudō shin-sen keikaku to shūhen kaihatsu. 1981. Tōkyō: 業計画センター, Sangyō Keikaku <Center>).
Online searches found no evidence of an active PRT project in Tsukuba city. Other searches found a proposal for LRT, (「つくば南北線」構想報告書; 1. つくば市に求められる新たな交通システム), but no evidence of an active AGT, NTS or LRT project.
(In Japan, <LRT> refers to modern tramway (streetcar) lines, built in streets but with track areas reserved, using modern cars that provide バリアーフリー, <barrier free> i.e. low-floor boarding.)
Tsukuba city was not served directly by rail for a number of years. The nearest railway station was located about 10 km southeast of the of the center. Express bus services carried a major share of Tōkyō – Tsukuba passenger traffic. Then, in 2005, a new railway was opened between central Tōkyō (Akihabara station) and Tsukuba, 58.3 km. The undertaking, a "third-sector" enterprise financed by public-sector and private-sector investment, is titled 首都圏新都市鉄道株式会社, Shuto-ken shin toshi tetsudō kabushiki-gaisha, Metropolitan Intercity Railway Company. The company trades as つくばエクスプレス, Tsukuba Express, and uses the abbreviation "TX" in Japanese and English. The English-language pages on the company's website are grouped as its English Guide - Tsukuba Express | つくばエクスプレス.
TX carried 97.8 million passengers during fiscal year 2009. Tsukuba TX station served 15,117 boardings and alightings per (calendar) day during this time, which implies about 2.8 million annual boardings. (I have visited Tsukuba but have not ridden TX.)
(For information about changes in modal share following opening of TX, see: KAWADA Marie, and ISHIDA Haruo, OKAMOTO Naohisa, and TSUTSUMI Morito. 2010. Effects of Tsukuba Express Project on the Residents' Travel Behavior, Journal of the Eastern Asia Society for Transportation Studies, Vol. 8, 2010.)
Local bus service is operated by 関東鉄道株式会社, Kantō Railway Company, Ltd., known by its abbreviated title, 関鉄, Kantetsu.
Official website (in Japanese): 関東鉄道オフィシャルサイト.
Schematic map, showing bus services which operate to and from つくばセンター Tsukuba Center, at the TX Tsukuba terminal: 路線バス系統別時刻表(つくばセンター<つくば駅>発着系統)|関東鉄道オフィシャルサイト.
The page above has links to timetables (in pdf format) for various bus services (all exclusively in Japanese).
Sample Kantetsu bus timetable:
土浦駅 [Tsuchiura railway station] – つくばセンター [Tsukuba Center / TX Tsukuba station] – 筑波大学中央 [University of Tsukuba central terminal]. This file contains two timetables. The blue characters 【平日】, heijitsu, mean "weekdays." The red characters, 【土日祝日】, Donichi shukujitsu, mean "weekends and (public) holidays."
The corridor extending from the University of Tsukuba, southeastward to Tsukuba Center, Tsukuba station (TX) and the East Japan Railway (JR-East) Jōban Line is about 12 km long, and two to four km wide. Views ("Google Maps;" scale is 100 meters = 30.5 mm, about 1:3,300, unless otherwise noted):
Readers are encouraged to "explore" by shifting the image, and by zooming in and out. Many major destinations are labeled in English as well as Japanese, but not all. Residential areas are relatively easy to locate, because schools are labeled in English as well as Japanese. A uniform icon, a white cross on a maroon background, is used to mark hospitals, medical clinics and dental clinics.
"Google Street View" images are available for parts of Japan, but not (yet) for Tsukuba City. The "pegman" icon may be used to view photos uploaded to "Panoramio.com" that have been reviewed and selected for "Google Maps."
University of Tsukuba aerial image. Note the large parking lots at the periphery of the campus.
Tsukuba Center and Tsukuba TX station (letter "A") aerial image. Again, note the substantial amount of land used for automobile parking.
Tsukuba Center (photo), with the bus terminal at right.
Gakuen-chūō-dōri boulevard (photo), looking southeastward toward Tsukuba Center.
Gakuen-nishi-ōdōri boulevard extends southeastward from central Tsukuba to Hitachino-Ushiku station, JR-East Jōban Line. The area around this station is designated 人々ニュータウン, "Hitobito New Town" (hitobito = people), and is planned to house 39,000 residents when completed (Boyle, Tim. 2004. The New Town Phenomenon. Alien Times, May 2004.).
The large quantity of off-street automobile parking is worth noting. Some of this is station parking, and much of the rest is at shopping malls. The railway was built more than a century ago, but Hitachino-Ushiku station was opened quite recently, in 1998. It is located in Ushiku city, and handled 5,797 boardings and alighting per day during the 2009 fiscal year. This implies about 1.1 million annual boardings.
Gakuen-higaishi-ōdōri boulevard extends southeastward from central Tsukuba to Arakawa-oki station, JR-East Jōban Line. This station is located in Tsuchiura city, and was once the major interchange point for passengers traveling between central Tōkyō and Tsukuba city by rail and bus. The station handled 9,016 boardings and alightings per day during the 2009 fiscal year. This implies about about 1.6 million annual boardings. Note the large shopping mall just southeast of the station.
Tsuchiura city (土浦市) adjoins Tsukuba city to the east. The estimated population, at August 1, 2010, was 144,154. The land area was 122.99 km2 (again, crude population density statistics for Japanese cities are often highly misleading because municipal boundaries may include significant areas of agricultural or uninhabitable land). Once an agricultural center, Tsuchiura has become a hub for manufacturing and suburban housing. Tsuchiura station is an important transport center for JR-East Jōban Line trains and regional bus services, including those extending to Tsukuba Center and the University of Tsukuba. The station handled 17,053 boardings and alightings per day during the 2009 fiscal year. This implies about about 3.1 million annual boardings.
As noted above, approximately half of Japan's publicly-funded research and development has been conducted at Tsukuba city. There are 60 - count them - national research institutes at Tsukuba, and number of private research facilities approaches 250. The public research "zones" include physical science and engineering, construction, and public ("common") facilities. The status of Tsukuba city as a major research center, in the world's second-largest economy (by nominal GDP), tends to suggest that PRT depolyment in Japan would begin here.
Where, then, is the PRT system?
Central Tōkyō - Ikebukuro: Where's the PRT? - 2.2
Readers wishing to explore alignments that might have been used for the stillborn <CVS> project might wish to begin at Ikebukuro station. Central Tōkyō lies to the southeast, that is, toward bottom right.The "Metropolitan Expressway No. 5 Ikebukuro Route," which is colored green, joins the "Inner Circular Route" expressway not far northwest of Tōkyō Station. The "Inner Circular Route" passes north of Tōkyō Station and the Nihombashi - Kyōbashi - Ginza axis.
Readers are advised that some of the English-language labels do not appear if the magnification is reduced, e.g. "Metropolitan Expressway No. 5 Ikebukuro Route."
"Google Street View" images are available for central Tōkyō.
By shifting the image, and by zooming in and out, readers are likely to find many locations within Tōkyō where the built environment, including transportation systems (e.g. subways), begs the question:
Where are all the PRT systems?
Kaihin New Town (Chiba city): Where's the PRT? - 2.3
Readers interested in exploring a residential "new town" once planned for PRT, or AGT, might begin at Kemigawahama station, JR-East Keiyō Line. This is located not far east of central Tōkyō. The residential area known as 海浜ニュータウン, Kaihin <New Town>, was built from 1968. A total of 43,000 housing units were planned to house up to 157,000 residents. All of Kaihin New Town is located in 美浜区 Mihama Ward, 千葉市 Chiba city; all of Mihama Ward is built on land reclaimed from Tōkyō Bay.
Inage-kaigan station also serves the new town; an area of high-density development is located nearby. "Google Street View" images are available for this area of Chiba city.
Where is the PRT system?
Setagaya Ward, Tōkyō: Where's the PRT? - 2.4
Tōkyō has two "legacy" tramway (streetcar) lines. One of these is the 東急世田谷線, Tōkyū Corporation Setagaya Line. This extends from Sangenjaya, westward and northward to Yamashita (Odakyū Electric Railway, Odawara Line) and Shimo-Takaido (Keiō Corporation, Keiō Line).
Online exploration of this line might begin at the eastern terminal, Sangenjaya. The line itself is labeled on the map only in Japanese kanji characters, but stations are labeled in rōmaji (Latin-alphabet form) as well. Tokyo Rail, TOKYU Setagaya line, a page on the Tokyo Rail website, has a location map and a list of stations.
"Google Street View" images are available for this area of Tōkyō.
The Setagaya line is regulated as a tramway but has no segments of street track. It was built in 1925 as a branch of the Tamagawa tramway line, the earliest predecessor of today's Tōkyū Corporation. The Tamagawa Line was closed in 1969, isolating the Setagaya Line. In order to retain this segment, Tōkyū had to build a new depot and maintenance facility. The 18 remaining cars were coupled into two-car formations, and these had to be worked by two-man crews. This image of a デハ80形 de-ha 80 series formation was made at 2000 December, shortly before retirement.
This short (5.0-km), slow, labor-intensive operation might have been replaced by AGT - or PRT However, this did not take place (and I have not seen anything in print to suggest that the company ever considered this). Instead, it acquired ten new articulated cars, the 300 series, built by 東急車輛製造, Tōkyū Car Corporation (which is a member of the Tōkyū Group), from 1999 to 2001. The first six were built for tramway-style ground-level loading. Thereafter, the company decided to build low platforms at stations to provide <barrier free> boarding. The last of the old rolling stock was retired early in 2001.
"YouTube" video, showing all ten stations along the line: 電車の風景@東急世田谷線 (Passing Trains on the Tokyu Setagaya Line).
The tramway carried 55,670 passengers per calendar day during the 2009 fiscal year. The annual passenger traffic was more than 20.3 million. That is "a lot" of traffic. The tramway has ten stations, and so the average distance between stations is less than 0.6 km. It also has many level (grade) crossings. The rolling stock is designed for a maximum speed of 60 km/h, but the maximum permitted speed is 40 km/h. The scheduled running time between terminals is 16 min, and this implies a commercial (schedule) speed of less than 19 km/h. The tramway is functional and useful, but a dispassionate observer might conclude that if PRT were economically and financially feasible, then Tōkyū would have replaced the Setagaya Line tramway with PRT years ago. PRT might also have facilitated expansion to serve other major destinations; Setagaya Ward houses the largest number of residents among the 23 "special wards" of Tōkyō.
Where, then, is the PRT system?
Tama New Town (western Tōkyō region): Where's the PRT? - 2.5
The largest <New Town> development in Japan is located about 20 km west of central Tōkyō. This area, 多摩ニュータウン, Tama <New Town>, consists of 21 residential districts, each built on about 100 hectares of land. Each residential district has 3,000 - 5,000 housing units, planned for 12,000 - 20,000 residents. The planned total population was 342,200; the current population is about 200,000. The total area of Tama New Town is nearly 2,900 hectares. The overall development area extends 14 km east and west, and 1 km - 3 km north and south.
The project was planned from 1965. Construction started during 1966 and continued to the 1990s; commercial development (e.g. shopping centers) continues today. Tama New Town is not organized as a separate municipality. Its residential districts were built in Hachiōji, Inagi, Machida and Tama cities. The designated central district of the new town is 多摩センター, Tama <Center>, which is located in Tama city.
The residential districts, each with schools, a shopping district and other facilities, are grouped around one of the 10 railway stations (counting stations served by more than one operator only once) in the development area.
The railway stations are:
Odakyū Tama Line: Odakyū-Nagayama – Odakyū-Tama-Center – Karakida.
Tōkyō Tama Intercity Monorail: Tama Center – Matsugaya.
JR-East Nambu Line: Minami-Tama.
Aerial photograph of the Tama Center station site in 1974. Keiō Sagamihara Line service opened in 1974, and Odakyū Tama Line service in 1975. The Tōkyō Tama Intercity Monorail line opened in 2000.
These stations served nearly 395,000 boardings and alightings per (calendar) day during the 2009 fiscal year. This implies more than 72 million annual boardings within Tama New Town.
The built environment within Tama New Town includes a mix of high-density, medium-density and (relatively) low-density land uses. The large number of rail passengers and the location of some major destinations away from railway stations suggests that significant markets exist for relatively short-distance "shuttle" type services.
Where, then, are the PRT systems?
Tama Monorail (western Tōkyō region): Where's the PRT? - 2.6
The Tama Monorail, a north-south line in western Tōkyō, was built to provide improved transportation within and between suburban towns, and improved connections with major radial rail lines. The line serves Higashiyamato city, Tachikawa city, Hino city, Hachiōji city and Tama city. It extends between Kamikitadai and Tama Center stations, 16.0 km, and was opened in stages during 1998-2000.
Tama Monorail Photo Essay (The Monorail Society).
The line was built by 多摩都市モノレール株式会社 (official website, in Japanese), an enterprise which uses the English-language title Tōkyō Tama Intercity Monorail Company, Ltd. This is a "third-sector" undertaking with most of the shares (80 percent) held by the Tōkyō Metropolitan Government. The remainder are held by the Seibu, Keiō and Odakyū railway corporations, on-line municipalities and other investors.
The line has 19 stations. The built served by the monorail may be explored simply by following the line northward from Tama Center station. The line itself is labeled only in Japanese script (多摩モノレール) but stations are labeled in rōmaji (Latin-alphabet form) as well.
The line carried 122,597 passengers per (calendar) day during the 2009 fiscal year. This implies nearly 45 million passengers per year.
At Tachikawa, the monorail connects with a very busy suburban rail line, the JR-East Chūō Line. Here, the monorail has two stations, Tachikawa-kita and Tachikawa-minami, which are just 400 meters apart.
Quite apart from the potential for PRT development as feeders to stations is the question of PRT as an alternative to lines such as the Tama Monorail. The stated advantages of "High-capacity PRT" include reduced construction cost and higher commercial speed (Anderson, J[ohn] Edward. 2005. The Future of High-Capacity Personal Rapid Transit). The Tama Monorail provides a commercial speed of about 27 km/h; as such, service is not particularly "fast." Nor was it inexpensive to build. At the time of completion, the construction cost was stated at JPY 242.2 thousand million; USD 2.3 billion at the time (Tama Monorail Opens In Tokyo, International Railway Journal, March 2000). This implies that the line cost JPY 15 thousand million per km (USD 230 million per mile) to build. Moreover, the line incurred operating losses during its first decade of operation. By the end of the 2006 fiscal year, the line reached the point of "balance-sheet" insolvency because cumulative losses had grown to exceed assets. The line became profitable during the 2008 fiscal year, but planned expansion appears unlikely during the near- to mid-term future.
Where, then, are the PRT systems?