Is faster travel better?


Shigeru Kashima
Professor, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Chuo University
Areas of specialization: Transportation Engineering and National Land Planning

40 Minutes

I am sure that many people heard the announcement around a month ago that work will begin on the Chuo Linear Shinkansen, which will link Tokyo (Shinagawa Station) and Nagoya in 40 minutes for around the same fare as now, planned to go into operation in 2027.

Travel has become one of our modern day essentials alongside clothing, food, and shelter, but travel itself is usually not the ultimate goal (except when people are traveling for leisure purposes). The notion that travel time should be as short as possible has become somewhat common sense. Essentially, I believe this view is correct. However, I wonder if most people would prefer using the Chuo Linear Shinkansen going to Nagoya. For me, 40 minutes feels too fast. How about you?

My own impression was that 40 minutes, which is shorter than my commute, would not be long enough to check work-related materials, or to enjoy the scenery. I decided to use this opportunity to reexamine whether travel time really should be as short as possible.

The Value of Travel

There are various means of travel that have been developed and implemented since the second half of the 19th century. One of these is the Shinkansen, the Japanese bullet train. How have transport developers seen the value of travel itself, which on its own might seem trivial? The most widely-held view is that the purpose of travel lies in the satisfaction gained by carrying out the activity at our destination. Developers have confirmed the validity of this point of view by observing the results of the travel choices of users.

My unease about traveling on the Chuo Linear Shinkansen shows that I do not fit this model of user. If we believe that the value of travel lies only in the satisfaction that can be achieved through activities carried out at the destination, the rational approach would be to reduce the time spent traveling as much as possible and to use the time freed up as a result to carry out activities at the destination. However, what if we enjoy doing something as we travel? When we have a discussion with our colleagues to smooth out differences of opinion in relation to work, will it have just the same effect on a train or in a meeting room? Exchanging opinions on a train might produce different results than in a meeting room. And furthermore, some people may even enjoy the process of deciding their means of travel, thinking about the different routes they may take to get to their destination.

Mechanical Users and Selecting Users

Can we be certain that there is more satisfaction gained by people with more free time as a result of shorter travel time, than the amount of satisfaction lost as a result of shorter travel time, missing out on other values by being too focused on reducing travel time? In an age when there are increasing numbers of elderly people with more leisure time, as well as those with less working hours, are we certain that we are gaining more than we are losing?

Is it reasonable to assume that the users of today see travel in the same way as users in the past when people wanted to travel as quickly as possible and allocate the time gained to work so that they could earn more money, as seen during Japan’s period of high economic growth?

Of course, many people may still think this way. But surely there are also other users with a different perspective. What’s more, we may be seeing an increase in the number of these “other” users. As these changes arise, when we consider the needs for future travel development, is it reasonable to apply user models guided by the results of easily measurable user travel behavior, in the same way as it was applied in the past?

Instead of treating people who choose the method of travel depending on the particular circumstances merely as mechanical users, surely we need to regard them as people who choose how to travel based on a variety of different conditions, individual knowledge and experience.

Decision-Making Mechanisms

Fortunately, progress has been made on many levels in research into the workings of the human brain. Surely we have now entered an age in which we are able to utilize the results of this research and pursue the mechanisms in the brains of users for deciding means of travel.

Rather than simply expressing overcrowded commuter trains by dividing the number of passengers in a carriage by its capacity, I believe it is necessary to come up with innovative ways of showing how each individual user feels about overcrowding and how they use these feelings as the basis for selecting their method of traveling.

Choosing just one method of transport for the entire society requires huge resources (it is said that the Chuo Linear Shinkansen will cost 9.3 trillion yen to build between Tokyo and Osaka). Other means of transport may disappear as a result of choosing a new method.

In order to avoid making the wrong choices as a society that aims for a practical implementation of transport, we also need to show the side effects of the choice that is made, including what we will be lost and forgotten as a result of achieving these new means of travel.

Shigeru Kashima
Professor, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Chuo University
Areas of specialization: Transportation Engineering and National Land Planning
Professor Kashima graduated from the Faculty of Science and Engineering, Waseda University in 1971, and went on to complete his doctoral degree in 1976 at the Graduate School of Science and Engineering, Tokyo Institute of Technology.
After working as an assistant at the School of Engineering, Tokyo Institute of Technology, and then as a lecturer and associate professor at the Institute of Industrial Science, the University of Tokyo, he was appointed associate professor at Chuo University’s Faculty of Science and Engineering in 1981. In 1989, he became a professor at Chuo University, and since 2005 he has also served as a professor at the Graduate School of Public Policy, Chuo University.
[Recent books] 
Asia in the Midst of Globalization [Globalization no Naka no Asia] (Co-author, Hirosaki University Press, 2013).
Inter-Government Relations from the Perspective of Public Buses?Focusing on Regional Buses [Noriai Basu-ni Miru Seifukan Kankei?Chiho Basu o Chushin ni] (Co-author, The Japan Research Center for Transport Policy, 2013).