Hailing a cab easier for foreigners

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Taxi companies have decided to give a helping hand to those who do not speak Japanese.

Nihon Kotsu Co. said Friday it will accept calls for cabs in English beginning July 1. It said it recently recruited six operators who can speak English to handle the 24-hour Taxi English Phone service in a bid to win foreign customers.

The service will be available in Tokyo’s 23 wards as well as the cities of Musashino and Mitaka.

The move follows the opening of the company’s cab stand at Roppongi Hills, which houses business, entertainment and residential complexes that have drawn scores of foreign businesspeople and tourists.

There is an urgent need for taxi companies in Tokyo to improve services for foreign visitors, it said.

“We believe the service gives our foreign customers a sense of security and will help us acquire new customers,” said company spokeswoman Itsuko Takahashi.

Foreigners calling the company in the past have had to wait while radio operators tried to track down an English-speaking staff member, she said.

“Few cab drivers can speak English, but our English-speaking operators will come in handy to inform them of customers’ destinations and other information,” she said.

But a spokesman for taxi firm Kokusai Motorcars Co. said there is little to be gained by creating an exclusive English line for radio taxis. The majority of cab users in Japan are Japanese, he noted.

Kokusai Motorcars simply has some English-speaking cab drivers on standby who can be dispatched whenever needed by foreign customers, he said.

Tokyo MK Corp. meanwhile said it is trying to increase the number of English-speaking operators it has handling radio taxi services. But the firm’s most urgent task is to train its cab drivers to speak English, spokesman Akio Ozawa said.

Earlier this year, the company began providing free English lessons to its cab drivers on weekends. He said the lessons are conducted with the help of one of the firm’s limousine taxi drivers, who can speak English.

“We are receiving more and more foreign tourists at Narita airport, and nearly 40 percent of our corporate clients are those affiliated with foreign companies,” Ozawa said. “Even a cab company must be able to keep up with the current of internationalization.”