Baby steps in being more affordable, Tokyo lowers taxi fares

Starting fares are reduced by almost half from ¥730 (US$6) to ¥410 (US$3.5). Pic: antb/Shutterstock

TOKYO has inched past Hong Kong to snag the title of the most expensive city in Asia-Pacific for business travel this year.

The appreciation of the Japanese yen and reduced hotel rates in Hong Kong (due to a decline in tourism) have aided in pushing Tokyo past Hong Kong.

However, business travelers can cheer on Tokyo’s decision to lower the base fare for taxis in the city and two western Tokyo cities, Musashino and Mitaka.

Starting fares are reduced by almost half from ¥730 (US$6) to ¥410 (US$3.5).

Japan Times reported passengers traveling up to 2km will pay less according to the new rates while those who make trips further than 6.5km will be charged more.

The report said the number of taxi users has dropped by 30 percent over the decade.

TripAdvisor forums and travelers’ blogs often advise international tourists to avoid taxis unless absolutely necessary due to the extremely high fares.

The reduced fares are not expected to affect revenues for taxi companies.

Ichiro Kawanabe, chairman of taxi operator Nihon Kotsu Co. and the Tokyo Hire-Taxi Association, told Japan Times if the number of taxi riders remains unchanged, total revenue is forecast to remain the same.

Tokyo’s last trains run between midnight and 1am, and it’s not unusual to see hordes of tourists shuffling about in Shinjuku station to make the last ride out.

However, Tokyo’s Saturday night rides are no bed of roses. If you make it, expect to be squashed against the glass doors, surrounded by loud-mouthed, intoxicated passengers while others loll their heads to sleep while standing.

The discomfort on the trains is a cinch compared to the high fares of a post-midnight taxi.

If you’re putting up in the suburbs, don’t be alarmed if you had to pay a ¥25,000 (US$219) fare.

SEE ALSO: Japan scrambles to resolve hotel room shortage ahead of 2020 Olympics

Tourists who miss the last train out sometimes find it cheaper to book a room in the city than to take a taxi back to their hotels.

If neither option is feasible, they might pull an all-nighter and catch the early morning train back to the suburbs.

Unlike most major cities, Tokyo has been largely hostile towards the sharing economy, presenting a challenge for the likes of Uber to penetrate the local market.

Some argue the Uber model culturally clashes with Tokyo’s current system.

Tim Romero, founder of the Japanese startup site Disrupting Japan, told TriplePundit, “The Japanese consider regulators to be annoying, but not an enemy … loudly declaring your intention to defy them earns you nothing but contempt from the Japanese public.”

He said rallying against taxi drivers for public support – a tactic commonly employed by Uber – was never going to work in Japan.

“Both Uber and Airbnb grossly overestimated the amount of grassroots support and goodwill they would receive when they entered the Japanese market,” he said.

However, a step in the right direction is a new app which helps tourists and passengers calculate taxi fares before the ride.

Passengers then will either pay drivers the amount on the app or the amount on the meter whichever turns out to be cheaper.

In 2016, the number of inbound visitors in Japan surged 21.8 percent from the previous year, a record high for the country.

Last year, the Japan National Tourism Organization announced an ambitious target of hitting 40 million annual inbound tourists by the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

SEE ALSO: Japan is preparing for rise in sports tourism ahead of 2020 Olympics

Seeing that international attention is rising in Japan, the news of Japan’s lowered taxi fares – though only a small step towards making the city more accessible for tourists – is one very much welcomed.