Deano’s answer to: “What is it like to work as a ‘pusher’ in Tokyo’s subway system?”

A lot, I suppose, like being a Normal Station Attendant or Train Conductor, 90% of the time. There is no “Dedicated Train Pusher” job title on either the Tokyo metropolitan train or subway systems… At least, not anymore(†)!

Train stuffing is a comparatively rare occurrence that happens only during the confluence of two factors:

  • Too many people in the station waiting for trains and, somewhat paradoxically,
  • Too many trains

Walk with me here a minute, and it’ll make more sense. In a single day, the Yamanote line (most famous for the train stuffing effect, and pictured in the Question above) serves 3.5 million riders at 29 stations – by comparison, the entire NYC subway system serves 5 million a day across 26 lines and 468 stations(*).

(Yamanote Line Map courtesy of: http://www.flickr.com/photos/a2c… )

Most days, most lines, and most times of day, the Yamanote runs a varying number of trains, which tend to come every 5 minutes or so, maybe as many as 10-12 minutes apart at extreme off peak hours.

During the rush hours, however, trains run on a VERY tight schedule, coming every 2-3 minutes – That’s 24 trains per hour going in one direction, 48 both ways! (red arrows below indicate 7am and 8am commute hours):

(full table @ http://ekikara.jp/newdata/ekijik…)

“No problem,” you say, “if they come that often, I’ll just wait for the next one when the first gets too full for comfort”.

Well, my friend, you’re not alone. About 10% of all riders feel the same way. Seeing as that means each train is “comfortably full”, and the trains come every 2 minutes, then after 20 minutes you’ve already got an entire train’s worth of excess riders, waiting for the trains to not be full. Expand that out to the entire rush hour period, and you’re talking more like 3-5 extra train-loads of people, just standing around on the platform.

Adding 3 trains an hour to a schedule that has trains stopping into the station EVERY OTHER MINUTE is… Shall we say… a bit unrealistic, and one might even suggest, incredibly unsafe.

Instead, Japan Rail opts for the only other logical solution: train stuffing. People are crushed together, it’s terribly uncomfortable, and even the pervs hate it, because they can’t even be sure they aren’t squeezing man-boobs by mistake. Every ride, you hear about a couple people fainting from the heat/lack of oxygen (yeah, you’re literally pressed up to the point where someone’s coat can suffocate you if you aren’t on the taller side).

Still, you get enough of those 10%ers aboard, and the platform overflow can remain at reasonable levels, which helps prevent:

  • people accidentally bumping fellow passengers onto the tracks,
  • fire hazards and emergency evacuation issues,
  • a fertile hunting ground for pickpockets.

Pictures just don’t cover it, you really need to see these guys in action, to fully understand the issue (video from the Seibu Line shown here depicts ‘suburban’ commuters headed into Tokyo in the morning – the trains don’t run as often as the Yamanote, and as you can see, there is a little more enthusiasm about everyone getting aboard):

These stalwart JR Conductors and Station Attendants do what they must to ensure the safety and security of both their passengers they work for, and the stations they work in. 
And like I said, they do this usually for no more than 60-90 minute bursts, and because of the nature of their job/shift/station rotation, likely have to perform the “pusher” role no more than 2-3 times per week. Given all that, it’s probably fairly easy to just “grin and bear it”, rather than suffering any trauma, stigma, or becoming sadistically addicted to the practice.

(* I’m not this smart, but Wikipedia is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yam…)

(† On further study, it seems that in the past, there was a distinct position, called “Passenger Arrangement Staff”, filled by part timers and students, but that this role has been integrated with general station attendant/conductor duties… More here, from that brainy Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pus…

What is it like to work as a “pusher” in Tokyo’s subway system?

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