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Why so few people drive in Tokyo

Daniel Knowles, who is a correspondent for the Economist, recently authored a book called Carmageddon: How Cars Make Life Worse and What to Do About It. I haven’t read it, yet, but I did just read this excerpt about Tokyo, and it was jam-packed with interesting stats.

Here are some of them:

  • Among developed cities, Tokyo has the lowest car use in the world. About 12% of trips are completed with a car, whereas 17% of trips are done with a bicycle. Most people walk and/or take transit. Tokyo has the most-used public transit system in the world — about 30 million people each day.
  • Car ownership across Japan is about 590 vehicles per 1,000 people. This is comparable to many European countries. In the US, it’s about 800 vehicles per 1,000. However, this figure drops in Tokyo. Here, the average is about 0.32 cars per household, which was interesting to see because most new housing projects in downtown Toronto have parking ratios that are much lower than even this figure.
  • The average size of a home in Tokyo is 65.9 square meters of usable area. By comparison, the average size of a home in London is 80 square meters. But given that according to Knowles, the average household size in London is 2.7 people, whereas it’s 1.95 in Tokyo. So per capita, Tokyoites actually have more space than Londoners.
  • 35% of streets in Japan are not wide enough to fit a car. If you add in streets that are wide enough to fit a car but not wide enough that a car could stop and not entirely block traffic, this figure jumps to 86%. This to me is a massively significant statistic, because if you want people to walk places you need small streets.
  • 95% of streets in Japan do not allow any sort of street parking — day or night.
  • The average Japanese car owner drives around 6,000 kilometers per year. This is about a third of what the average American does. In my case, it looks like I have averaged about 8,868 kilometers per year over the last 5 years. Though a big chunk of my kilometers would be from longer one-off snowboarding trips. In other words, I don’t drive all that often in the city.
  • Japan has some of the most expensive road tolls/prices in the world. Meaning, Japan does not actively subsidize driving and instead just charges drivers accordingly. Apparently the average is about 3,000 yen per 100 kilometers, which is about CA$30 per 100 kilometers.
  • In addition to not subsidizing cars, Tokyo is also one of the few cities in the world where their public transit does not need to be subsidized. A big part of this has to do with high ridership, but the other important part is that its transit authorities also develop real estate. Shockingly, this means that it tends not to build standalone and single-storey transit stations (ahem, I’m looking at you Crosstown LRT). Instead, they build lots of density where it always belongs: on top of transit.

I may just have to read Knowles’ book.

1 Comment so far

  1. Myron Nebozuk

    Having visited Tokyo a few times, I will add that Tokyo is not a walkable city the way Paris or Rome is. Tokyo’s highlights are too dispersed, making public transit a necessity. Japan is also a homogenous society and that in itself makes public transit perceptually safer; they have a culture that has strong expectations of its citizens. We, in North America, have lost the civic duty plot. For this reason, public transit in North American cities FEELS unsafe, even when statistical data tells us otherwise.


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