Passengers in a taxi normally want their driver to get them to their destination as quickly as possible, without worrying about the ride.
However, for those wanting a more leisurely drive, the Sanwa Kotsu group is providing a service that is building up a following.
On the morning of April 17, a 38-year-old homemaker climbed into a Sanwa Kotsu cab in front of her home in Yokohama's Kohoku Ward. After she became comfortable in the back seat, she pushed the "Yukkuri" button. Along with a musical chime, a plastic plate flipped down near the front window. The plate had an illustration and the word Yukkuri (slow) written on it.
The woman held her 1-year-old daughter, but throughout the approximately 4-kilometer ride, the child appeared relaxed as they headed for a ward facility that provides child-rearing support.
The woman explained why she used the service for the second time.
"The starts and stops are very smooth because there is no jarring movement," she said. "It is perfect for those times when I don't want to have my sleeping child woken."
Sanwa Kotsu began the unique service it dubbed "Turtle Taxi" in December 2013. Ten of the companies' 500 cabs were given that designation. The drivers are told to accelerate and decelerate carefully as well as restrain the centrifugal forces on passengers when making turns.
The service has been welcomed by senior citizens and pregnant women. In the three months since the Turtle Taxis started, the company has recorded a 15-percent increase in the number of telephone requests specifically for one.
Currently, Sanwa Kotsu operates 16 taxis mainly in the Yokohama area as Turtle Taxis, but it plans to introduce the system to all its cabs sometime next year to offer the service in Tokyo, Kanagawa and Saitama.
Motoharu Takiguchi, 41, a company official handling public relations, was told by a driver in June 2013, "I am often asked by customers to drive so there is not much shaking."
Takiguchi always believed that taxis should reach their destinations safely and as quickly as possible.
However, other drivers said the same thing, so an outside agency was asked to conduct a survey of about 100 people. About 70 percent of the respondents replied, "I have felt at times that I wanted a slower ride."
There were various reasons given, such as a tendency to become carsick, a dislike of shaking and a desire among pregnant women to reduce excess stress on their tummies.
Because many of the respondents said they had experiences of not being able to express their desires for a slower ride, company officials decided to introduce the service as a way of tapping into latent demand.
There were also unexpected benefits from the service in the form of lower fuel costs, as the absence of sudden starts and stops reduced gasoline consumption. Compared to conventional cabs, the Turtle Taxis had about 2 percent improved fuel efficiency.
"The service is good for customers, good for society and good for the company," Takiguchi said.
An official with the Japan Federation of Hire-Taxi Associations said there was no other example of a taxi company providing such a slow-driving service.
However, with greater competition amid a declining customer base, other companies have introduced unique services of their own.
For example, the Daiichi Koutsu Sangyo Co., based in Kita-Kyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture, provides an interpretation service for foreign passengers. The company operates about 7,600 taxis around Japan.
When a foreigner gets in one of the company's cabs, a mobile phone connects the vehicle with a central call center. When the customer states where they want to go, a worker at the call center informs the driver in Japanese. The 24-hour service can handle requests in English, Chinese and Korean.
Chiyoda Taxi, based in Shizuoka Prefecture, provides a service for holding barbecues in which the customers do very little. A taxi carrying food and barbecue equipment transports passengers to and from barbecue facilities. The cab company will even collect the garbage after the barbecue is over.
There has been an increase in usage since the service was begun in 2009. Last year, about 1,300 people utilized it.
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