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SHARING GOES OVER BIG:
Metropolitan Rent-a-Car System Being Tested
February 1, 2001
In any country in the world, big cities face the downsides of an automobile society everyday: Traffic jams, air pollution, and lack of parking are a headache for many people. To help eliminate these problems, a unique metropolitan rent-a-car system has been undergoing testing in Japan since 1999.
Experiment Begins in Yokohama
The cars have been placed at four stations within the test area, each of which is equipped with machines for charging the batteries. In place of a car key, small transmitters have been distributed to the registered users in advance. Upon arriving at a station, a user simply turns on the transmitter, which automatically connects to the control center's computer using a cellular phone network. If use of the car is approved by the computer, the car door unlocks automatically. These cars can run between 30 and 50 kilometers (about 20 to 30 miles) on one charge, and the control center sends drivers such information as battery levels and the distance back to the station.
The aim of this rent-a-car system is to alleviate traffic jams, pollution, and parking problems in the city through sharing of the electric cars. Another aim is to allow businesses to cut down on the costs of cars that they need to keep on hand.
Test Area Widens
Then, in June, the third phase of the trial began. This time the test area widened yet again to include Shin Yokohama Station, a Shinkansen bullet train stop, which is quite far from the city center. This allowed participants to use the cars when making long-distance business trips. Although the number of cars remained unchanged at 50, due to the increased convenience, the number of registered users expanded to 450 employees from 100 companies.
It has become clear through the three phases of the trial that the biggest impediment to this system's expansion is the actual cost of the cars themselves. Electric cars are still expensive, costing about 4 million yen (about 33,000 U.S. dollars at 120 yen to the dollar). Nevertheless, the hoped-for reductions in traffic jams, pollution, and parking problems were achieved. Many local government officials from around the country have been coming to MM 21 to see the program for themselves.
Housewives Targeted in Tokyo Suburb
The housewives use the cars mainly for driving their husbands between home and the train station, chauffeuring kids to and from kindergarten, or shopping at the supermarket. Because they can use the cars virtually anytime, it is almost like having their own car, only parked a short distance away. In an area where obtaining parking space is extremely difficult, using these rental cars instead of owning a car (or in some cases a second car) has proven extremely popular. Although the number of cars has not changed, the number of stations has grown to eight, servicing some 250 users.
The Japanese government plans to introduce the Intelligent Transport System, comprised of an advanced information and telecommunications network connecting roads and vehicles with the aim of easing traffic and eliminating accidents. Over the next two decades, 20 different services will be developed, one of which is a metropolitan rent-a-car system. With the hope of swiftly implementing this system, the association plans to continue tests of the system through 2001.
Copyright (c) 2001 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.