Vienna versus Tokyo: Whose Public Transportation is Better?

How do we choose where to live?

Often, the easiness of the public transportation will sway us one way or the other.

I don’t care for driving. Maybe it’s my poor vision. Maybe it’s the fact that the car accident I was in caused me health problems for years afterwards. Maybe it’s that I don’t have enough experience.

Or maybe it’s just cause driving sucks.

You have to worry about parking. You have to worry about maintenance. You have to worry about laws that vary on where you are. You have to worry about speeding, tickets, seatbelts, and carseats.

For this reason the lack of good public transportation in the States has historically been the number one reason why I wouldn’t want to settle down there (number two would be the “gun religion” that pervades the culture.)

Tokyo’s train system often gets touted as the best in the world.

Here’s my thoughts on Tokyo’s train system compared with Vienna’s.

What Makes a Great Public Transportation System

Monthly Passes

In Japan, the public transportation requires you to pay every time you change train lines (something to do with the fact every train line is owned by a different company). This makes the public transportation easily the most expensive of anywhere we’ve been, since there is no way to shortcut it other than weekend-available day passes. We’ve spent almost $20 each just navigating lines out to Odaiba, the man-made island in Tokyo. Furthermore, in Vienna, you don’t need to scan your ticket: it’s all on the honor system, though if you’re caught without a ticket you have to pay a fine. This actually happened to me on my study abroad. Though I had a ticket, I left it at home, and I had to pay 70 euros when a random check occurred on the train. Not having to scan anything in when grabbing a bus is just one less thing to worry about.


Odaiba, Tokyo


With a stroller, elevators really make life easier. In some ways, although Vienna has Tokyo beat in this category as well, it’s not Tokyo’s fault. It’s the difference between a city of 13 million people to one of 1.7 million. The stations in Tokyo are just so much more massive, require going down extra flights of stairs because there are so many more lines, and make finding the elevator sometimes more trouble than it is worth.

Ease of Use

Vienna wins in this category as well. It’s taken me a couple of months to begin to wrap my head around Tokyo’s metro. Of course, there’s the fact I can’t read kanji; but also, there isn’t a one stop shop to look at buses, either. Vienna has a website which details exactly the best route to take, and even as a newbie traveler at the age of 20, I got around on buses without a hitch. In Tokyo, the buses are written up on big yellow signs when you exit the metro, and are usually just outside the metro stop which is good. However, the bus can be owned by one of several companies, and if you’re trying to save money by sticking with your day pass, it’s not always clear which bus company owns which line.

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The incredibly complicated subway route map of Tokyo

Waiting time

In general, wait time is more in Tokyo.


In Vienna, you can take your bike on the train; In Tokyo, it’s not allowed.


In Vienna, there is no silence rule. In Tokyo, Ryder has learned how to sit quietly—not necessarily a bad thing! Still, an extra stressor for me. I had to cough yesterday on the train, and I felt that would be the height of rudeness to do without a face mask. I managed to hold it in, but not without tears pouring out of my eyes and almost collapsing from the strangling feeling in my throat as I thrashed blindly at the stroller looking for a bottle of water.




While Tokyo’s may have more coverage in length, I felt that Vienna’s was more thorough within neighborhoods. There is always a bus just around the corner there; here, 20-30 minutes walking is not unheard of. Tokyo is that much more massive of a city geographically, so the ability to visit all around it is definitely a plus, but if you’re looking for least walk time possible, I think Vienna’s wins.


Tokyo kills it in this regard, there are protective railings in many of the train stops so I don’t have to panic every time Ryder lets go of my hand.

Connectivity Cross-Border

There are at least ten countries with direct access via train to Vienna. This includes Switzerland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany, Italy, Romania, and Poland.

Japan is an island.


The winner?





Well, I guess it’s clear now that I’d take Vienna’s public transportation system overall. It’s a huge part of what makes the city so livable. Can’t complain about Tokyo’s, really: but it takes more work, money, and time to make it work. And just as a side note, I’d live in either Vienna OR Tokyo ahead of any US city I’ve been to so far, save maybe New York City.

Kalli Hiller

Article by Kalli Hiller

Kalli Hiller is a voluntary vagabond who, with her husband Jacob, has traveled full time for the last eight years.

Kalli has written 371 awesome articles for us.

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