Kyoto cab firm offers Tokyo top-service taxis, discount fares

Neatly dressed in a uniform designed by Hanae Mori, Japan’s leading fashion designer, an MK Taxi driver can make you feel like you are riding in a limousine. The driver will greet you as you climb aboard and, upon arrival at your destination, open the door for you, instead of relying on the automatic switch.

Sadao Aoki, owner of the Kyoto-based MK Taxi Co., says Tokyoites will soon be able to enjoy these services and at lower fares than other taxis once the firm begins operating in the metropolis in November. “Our business depends on whether we can offer good service with lower prices than other cabs,” Aoki said in a recent interview.

In most fields of commercial business, his message would not sound at all special, but it does in Japan’s taxi industry, which has long been protected and restricted by the Transport Ministry. Known as a vanguard of deregulation, the 68-year-old Korean resident of Japan has struggled against bureaucratic red tape over the years to expand his business through discount taxi services in the ancient capital.

Aoki said that MK’s Tokyo unit, which will be officially established later this month, plans to initially set the basic fare at 600 yen for the first 2 km — 10 percent less than most of its competitors — and may offer an even lower base fare if the company makes enough profit. He said that he has already received about 300 applications from people who want to become drivers in Tokyo.

MK, which already offers fares about 8 percent lower than those of other taxi firms in Kyoto, says it will not charge customers anything if their driver fails to greet them properly. Some MK drivers are also trained to conduct a Kyoto sightseeing tour in English, and some hold first-aid licenses.