One point of comparison between the US and Japan is riding a bus.
In Tokyo, the buses are made of quality materials, are used by the middle class, are clean, and cost 210 yen ($2.35) a ride. The next stop is clearly announced, LED screens announce the stop, and there are these little handicap-friendly buttons all over to push when you want to get off. The seats are cushy and there are no sharp edges. People keep to themselves. You can listen to your iPod, or even watch a movie on your iPad, with headphones, or fall asleep, and you’ll be just fine.
In Los Angeles, the buses are made of dirty aluminum, are used mostly by minorities on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum, and you have to reach to the windows to pull a dirty yellow cord to get off. The seats are flimsy, scudded all over, and have rather worryingly sharp edges. There’s usually at least one beggar. That beggar goes around accosting everyone on the bus, asking for “75 cents” or “do you have 2 dollars and 30 cents?” Nobody ever seems to give them any. People put their books away, put their gadgets away, and stay awake. Every now and then someone is lost and either gets off 3 stops too late or is asking the bus driver “Are we there yet?” every 30 seconds. Or there’s a guy smoking weed at a bus stop. There are certain things you don’t have the freedom to do, when on a bus, like count money or whip out your iPhone.
I actually don’t mind the US bus at all. But there is one thing that puzzles me. If you are paying $1.50 for a bus ride in order to be able to beg for money with people trapped there with you, wouldn’t it be more lucrative to sit at a bus stop and beg for $1.50 less? The guy asking for $2.30 — doesn’t that mean he really needed just 80 cents before he got on? That is terrible risk management. Anyone who pays that could have saved money by catching you before you get on the damn bus. And the guy asking for 3 quarters is either forgetting the cost of the fare or could have paid 2 people like him had he had the sense to stay at the bus stop. When you think about it, giving money to these people mostly just goes back into the bus system, so it’s like paying extra fares so you can ride with people who accost you for more money. Why not make a system where, at a bus stop, you can pay these people 75 cents not to get on, so you can answer your iPhone? Everybody’s happy!