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Jim Hamilton on Energy use in Japan

The key, he thinks, is making public transportation faster than the automobile:

Econbrowser: Energy use in Japan: I was in Japan a week ago, giving lectures at some of the universities in Tokyo and the Bank of Japan. I couldn't help but be struck by how differently energy is used in Tokyo compared with southern California. Since 1999, total petroleum consumption has declined by 1% per year in Japan, while in the U.S. it has increased by 0.8% per year. Part of the reason is that their economy has been growing at a slower rate (1.6% per year in Japan versus 2.7% per year in the U.S.). But part also is explained by different energy-use habits.

Practically no one I spoke with would even consider driving to work-- everyone takes the subways and trains, and gets to the station by bus, bicycle, or on foot. It's not because gas is particularly more expensive. I often saw regular gasoline selling for 136 yen per liter (about $4.20 per gallon) in the outskirts of Tokyo, not much more than the $3.50/gallon that we paid here in San Diego at the height this spring. People complained that parking is expensive. A typical price I saw was 2000 yen (or $16.30) to park your car for the day. Moreover, you could not count on the lot having space when you arrived, and employers don't provide parking for their workers.

But the most important explanation seemed to be that you'll get to work faster on the train than you would in your car. I never had to wait more than a few minutes to catch a train (and I took several every day), whereas sitting in a traffic jam was almost a sure thing if you tried to drive on any of the major roads. Years ago, Tokyo made a decision that the transportation infrastructure in which to invest was rail rather than parking and roads.

As China ponders which model to follow, I know what my advice for them would be...