An app that calculates taxi fares in advance of journeys is to be piloted in fiscal 2017 as part of wider efforts to boost taxi use. Passengers will be able to pay the driver either the cost shown on the app or on the meter at their destination, whichever is cheaper.
As taxi fares are calculated based on the distance travelled and time taken, the system is being developed jointly by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism and taxi companies. It will be trialed in Tokyo and other areas for demand and accuracy before being introduced nationwide.
With a record 24 million international visitors in 2016 and a target to annually welcome 40 million and boost their spending to 8 trillion yen by 2020, a key target market is tourists. Holiday-makers on a fixed budget tend to avoid using taxis due to unfamiliarity about the distance to the destination and how much it will cost, concerns about dishonest drivers, or the inability to communicate with the driver. This app is designed to offer them peace of mind, thereby stimulating increased taxi use, and to make Japan more tourist-friendly ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Industry experts, however, have reservations.
“Many tourists from Europe and America will be unable to use the app because data fees [when roaming] are so expensive that they mainly rely on free WiFi connections at coffee shops — which are rare — and subway/train stations, although Asian tourists seem more likely to have internet with them,” says Sebastien Duval, inbound manager at travel agency Get Japan.
While the system may increase taxi use if the fee shown on the app is reasonable, he added, the reverse is also true. If taxi fees are more expensive than expected, there will be less taxi use.
Meng Xu, of the Kanto inbound promotion group at H.I.S. Co Ltd, agrees that the lack of WiFi availability is a problem but believes the app is a good idea in principle. “We often get questions about taxi fees, travel time and how to call a taxi,” Xu says. “I think this is a very cool idea since taxis are very expensive in Japan, especially in Tokyo. Giving people an idea how much a trip will cost and allowing them to pay the cheaper price will definitely help encourage people to use a taxi service.”
According to Xu, however, a more important issue is making taxi services more accessible for inbound visitors. “There are a few taxi companies offering services in English but it is still far from enough,” he says.
Other industry experts have pointed out the increasing number of drivers who are unfamiliar with Tokyo’s streets and require an address to put into their satnav, as well as the difficulty of paying with either a credit card or large bill.
The app builds on other measures to promote taxi use among international visitors. The base fare was lowered in Tokyo’s 23 wards and the nearby cities of Musashino and Mitaka, on Jan 30, from 700–730 for the first 2 km to 380–410 yen for the first 1.052 km. When replacing their base fare information on taxi windows, some companies have also added the details in English.
Meanwhile, in a bid to appeal to taller and larger inbound tourists, a number of taxi firms are bolstering their fleets with minivans rather than sedans.
Taxi tour plans are also on the rise, to encourage both taxi use and exploration of off-the-beaten-track spots. In January, the Kobe Agri-Inbound Promotion Council launched its first round-trip taxi ride of five hours, taking in Kobe’s top fruit-growing areas. Tourists can take the tour throughout the year, picking strawberries, grapes, pears or persimmons depending on the season.© Japan Today