In Japan, only 20% of taxi rides are booked in advance. And many taxi companies are releasing their own mobile apps to simplify the process of calling up a cab, and hopefully filling up more of their empty cabs at the same time. Nihon Kotsu is one such company, with its mobile app Zenkoku Taxi Haisha (roughly translated as National Taxi Dispatch).
The app was first released back in December of 2011 and within a year it had over 500,000 downloads. The sales resulting from the app have exceeded 500 million yen, with over 40 prefectures and 76 taxi groups making use of it. And now the company has announced the release of a Taxi Ojisan Fare Calculation app in collaboration with a startup called Fuller.
Fuller is known for its Android phone management app ‘Boku Sumaho’ (meaning ‘I’m smartphone’ in Japanese). The app lets you run your mobile phone more efficiently by uninstalling apps that are not used, or killing unnecessary tasks. What’s unique about the app is that a small ojisan character (‘ojisan’ refers to an older man) in the app can be nurtured as you better manage the usage of your Android phones.
In the taxi fare calculation app, this same ojisan character lends a helping hand as well. By entering the starting point and destination from keywords or a map, the app calculates the estimate taxi fare. It uses the engine of the National Taxi Dispatch app, allowing you to call for a cab right after you do the math.
CNet Japan points out that the founders of Nihon Kotsu and Fuller met at an Evernote Hackathon in Tokyo held back in January. The CEO of Nihon Kotsu, Ichiro Kawanabe, explains:
At many companies, the decision makers are middle aged men. The common problem we have is to expand our reach to women and the younger generation. Getting support from a young startup sounded like a good idea. Our collaboration will trigger more projects like this […] which are lacking in the Japanese business society.
Still resistant to change ¶
Back at the Japan New Economy Summit, we Uber CEO Travis Kalanik talk about the problems he encountered when trying to bring his car service to Japan:
In Tokyo they fix the prices on private car services at 5540 yen. There are something like 90 different zones with different minimum fares, different rules. We are in cities all over the world and we haven’t seen anything like this. The government has essentially said that only rich people are able to get car service. […] These laws are set up to protect the taxis and your city is worse off because of it. In order for us to connect you to a car service through an app, we have to become a licensed travel guide. We have to hire certified travel guides. I don’t know why. They’re just trying to make it hard.
So while it’s certainly good to see taxi companies like Nihon Kotsu experimenting with new technologies, we hope that regulators leave some space for up-and-coming services like Uber to innovate as well.