Transport imaginations: Passenger experiences between freedom and constraint

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

mode - rail, place - asia, place - urban, ridership - commuting


urban railway, commuting, Tokyo, passenger experience


This paper highlights the openness and indeterminacy of passenger experiences by exploring the power of passengers' imaginations in the context of urban railway commuting in Tokyo, Japan. Contrasting with much existing research on the figure of the passenger which has often stressed its intensified management and securitisation through spaces of transit, this paper examines how imagination plays an important but under-acknowledged part in transforming passenger experiences. Drawing upon extensive qualitative fieldwork conducted in Tokyo, it describes how the virtuality of these imagined spaces can work in different ways that can both enable and constrain passengers. Rather than seeing imagination as an internal psychological phenomenon, this paper stresses the relational qualities of imagination. Imagination can enable passengers to creatively travel as they gather references from what they see, hear, smell and feel through their bodily registers. In doing so, this paper argues that imagination is a situational process that materializes through passengers' encounters with a range of sensory stimuli in railway spaces. It also spotlights the specificity of the Japanese context for developing our understanding of power dynamics in research on passenger experiences. Supplementing transport geography's longstanding commitment to tracing the politics of enablement and constraint in terms of accessibility and travel time use, our paper highlights how imagination is an important but overlooked political domain.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Elsevier, copyright remains with them.


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