Taxi facts and figures to impress your driver

by Mark Schreiber

Special To The Japan Times

Next time you’re in the back seat and tired of watching the meter clock up, use these ice-breakers to get the conversation flowing in your driver’s language.

• Tokyo’s 51,950 taxis account for 20.7 percent of the national total, with the categories broken down as follows: 31,314 hōjin (cars in company fleets); 16,787 kojin (owner-driver vehicles); and 3,849 haiyā, which operate under contract to companies or other organizations.

• “Dai Nippon Teikoku” (“Empire of Japan”) refers to four major taxi firms that were merged during World War II to serve the military. The term derives from their names: Daiwa Jidosha (established in 1939), Nihon Kotsu (1929), Teito Motor Transportation (1938) and Kokusai Motorcars (1920). Even now, these four companies still enjoy a loose alliance, accepting the same voucher coupons for payment and cooperating on radio dispatches.

• Over the last 35 years, the average age of Tokyo taxi drivers has risen from 39.2 to 57.9 years. In 1978, when the average age was 53, only 1.2 percent of drivers were 60 or over. By 2011, 51.6 percent were over 60.

• Out of some 67,000 cab drivers in Tokyo, about 700, just over 1 percent, are female.

• According to a 2011 survey by the nonprofit Tokyo Taxi Center of 2,594 newly hired Tokyo taxi drivers, prior to their current occupation, 25.8 percent previously worked in the service or retailing industries; 12.9 percent were truck drivers; and 11.6 percent worked in an office.

Their main reasons for taking up the trade were to earn more money (stated by 481 respondents); their former employer went out of business (246); they were culled in a company downsizing, or took early retirement (237); for personal reasons (166); their previous job was unsuitable (142); and they had reached the mandatory retirement age of 60 (118).

The biggest attraction in becoming a taxi driver, as stated by stated by 1,095 respondents (42.2 percent of the total), was that they “enjoyed operating a motor vehicle.” Another 300 (11.6 percent) said they liked to work by themselves. Other reasons stated, in descending order, were that they found the income appealing (8.8 percent); they could start earning income right away (5.8 percent); that a friend persuaded them to try it (4.2 percent); and that the work schedule gave them lots of days off (3.8 percent).

• In Tokyo, an average of 1,080,000 people ride in taxis each day. Nationwide during 2009, taxis made a total of 1,948,320,000 (almost 2 billion) passenger-trips — some 6.7 percent of all passengers on public transport, which mainly includes Japan Rail trains, subways, private railways and buses.

• On an average day, a Tokyo taxi will be driven 247.9 km, during which time it earns ¥43,514 — down considerably from peak earnings of ¥57,950 in 1995. The figure has risen slightly after bottoming out at ¥41,148 in 2009.

• The average distance per fare was 4 km — down from 5.3 km in 1991. The figure has remained steady for the past three years.

• Drivers charged with no violations of the traffic law, and who meet other criteria, are entitled to display a color-coded strip mounted over their name tag that reads yūryō untensha (excellent driver). A blue strip indicates five consecutive years; yellow, 10 years; pink, 20 years; green, 30 years; and orange, 40 years. A total of 21,237 drivers have been accorded recognition since the system was introduced in 1977.

• A 2011 survey by industry body the Tokyo Taxi Association found that passengers gave their main motives for using taxis as being in a hurry (20.2 percent); transporting things (17 percent); raining (14.8 percent); fatigued (14.2 percent); other means of transport not available (11.7 percent); and after drinking (10.8 percent).

Two-thirds of the 1,400 respondents said they did not give any consideration to which company they use when selecting a taxi. Likewise, 42.1 percent were unaware that separate taxi stands at major stations are reserved for use by drivers designated as excellent, and another 29.3 percent knew of their existence but did not utilize them.

• According to an Internet survey of 5,000 adults conducted by Gain in Sept.-Oct. 2011, the largest taxi-user segments were composed of males in their 50s and 60s and females in their 60s. The lowest were males in their 20s and females in their 20s and 30s.

Only 2.4 percent of respondents said they had a preference for a specific taxi company, but 10.9 percent said they “tried to use a certain company” when possible. In all, 31 percent said there were taxi companies they liked. Female passengers aged 50 and below appeared to have little awareness of any particular company.

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