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Taxis Offer More Than Just a Ride Home (February 17, 2005)

Some taxis provide hot towels. (Kinkaku Taxi)
A growing number of taxi operators in provincial areas of Japan have introduced innovative services to attract passengers. These include the provision of hot towels for passengers to refresh themselves and a drop-off service for children returning home from evening cram-school classes. These innovations are transforming taxis from mere vehicles for getting from A to B into versatile tools that assist people in a variety of ways in their everyday lives.

A Service Industry
Sasaki Yuji, the president of taxi operator Kinkaku Jidosha Shokai, believes his business involves a lot more than just moving people about. "Taxis are not a transportation industry but a service industry," he says. That is why, when passengers board one of his firm's cabs, the first thing they get is a steaming hot towel, or o-shibori, to refresh themselves. The towels are one of a number of special services the company, based in Uozu City, Toyama Prefecture, offers its passengers.

Sasaki took over Kinkaku, a family taxi business, after previously working as a salesman for a travel agency. Since then, he has introduced no-smoking taxis and taxis equipped with bicycle racks, so that cyclists caught out on rainy days can get home without getting soaked. He has also increased the number of taxis driven by women by actively recruiting local housewives to work part-time.

Passenger-Friendly Meters
Kinki Taxi, based in Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture, believes it has the solution to a major gripe among taxi passengers everywhere - the sight of the meter fare jumping up just as the journey comes to an end. Kinki Taxi's cabs have meters that alert passengers to the fact that the fare is about to rise before it happens.

The company also offers a special service to chauffeur kids home from cram schools, whose classes usually end in the evening. Families register with the service in advance. When a child needs a lift home, the family phones the taxi company, which then dispatches a car bearing a frog logo (the word "frog" in Japanese having the same pronunciation as "go home"). The kids are given small frog dolls, which they use to identify themselves as subscribers to the service. Several kids can ride together, splitting the fare. Other features offered by Kinki include cellphone rechargers inside the cars and a mileage system, whereby passengers' accumulated fares can go toward points that can be exchanged for merchandise in local shops.

Mobile Trials
In Aichi Prefecture, trials are under way to test a system in which passengers can summon and reserve taxis using cellphone e-mail. The system would cater to visitors in the vicinity of Nagoya during EXPO 2005, which the area will host from March 25 to September 25. An Expo visitor needing a cab would send a blank e-mail message to a taxi operator taking part in the system. The operator then sends a reply message, which contains a field in which the passenger registers for the service. The passenger then enters the pick-up location and other related information. As the exchange takes place without any voice communication, the system's planners hope it may one day be useful for some physically disabled people.

Many other innovations have been introduced or are under development among taxi operators throughout Japan, including "child-care taxis," which are designed to easily accommodate parents with young children and strollers. The drivers of another type of cab, the "support taxi," call out to children walking alone to "Take care!"

Passengers are expecting more than just transportation when they hail a cab, and taxi companies are using all their powers of innovation to meet these new demands.

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Copyright (c) 2005 Web Japan. 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.

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