Why Tokyo's subway is so great

Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan
Alexander Spatari | Getty Images

Washington Post Tokyo Bureau Chief Anna Fifield just published a genuinely excellent piece today about the Tokyo subway system. I say that with complete honesty, because I thoroughly enjoyed everything about it. It was informative, filled with great pictures, and even funny. But I'm also disappointed because the article deserves to be read by the most people possible, and something omitted from the piece probably will reduce its clicks by half.

You see, while Fifield includes nine key reasons why the Tokyo subway is so enviable there's nothing in the feature piece that even briefly attempts to explain why it's so good. I'm not sure why this essential fact is left out of the article, but don't you think a core difference between Tokyo's wonderful mass transit and our spotty systems here in the U.S. should have been mentioned... at least once?

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I'll cut out the suspense and say it: Tokyo's subway is privately run! Yes, it's true and it's been true since 1987. It also runs at a profit.

Now to be fair, it was the Japanese government that was responsible for this genius move. It set up the private companies that run the subway systems in the mega city and then left them mostly alone. This was not the result of an existing private rail corporation that swooped in to save mass transit. But the move also was an educational example of good government. Because it was one of those rare times when a government admitted there was something important it could not do well, and decided to let someone else run it instead. Even though the government owns the "private" companies, they run mostly independent of the government and day-to-day political pressures. It makes all the difference in the world and has made not only the continuing efficiency possible, but also the much-needed expansions of the last three decades.

Again, it's really a shame that this very important fact was left out of the piece, for no other reason that it would have made it much more likely to appear on the Drudge Report and a few dozen other conservative-leaning sites. Sometimes the media's tone deafness about non-liberal Americans wanders far from the political pages and infects the entire enterprise.

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I don't know if tone deafness, outright bias, or just an oversight is responsible for the exclusion, but it's a shame all the same. But maybe everyone reading this will at least get some ammunition the next time someone asks them who other than the government will build the (rail) roads?

Commentary by Jake Novak, supervising producer of "Power Lunch." Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.