YOKOHAMA (Kyodo) Car-sharing businesses are growing steadily in urban areas as more people look for ways to deal with the frustrations of big-city driving.

Customers pay a monthly membership fee and are issued an electronic card with which to rent a car.

Reservations can be made over the Internet, and vehicles are unlocked by simply pressing the membership card on the window.

It is similar to a membership car-rental system, but more suited to short-term, local use.

The system originated in Europe, where car-sharing was launched as a way to ease traffic congestion and to protect the environment.

In Japan, the system is attracting attention as a way to cope with parking-lot shortages, not only in city centers but also in suburban housing complexes.

Japan’s first private car-sharing company, CEV Sharing Corp. of Tokyo, operates a car-sharing station in Yokohama’s Minato Mirai district, an area full of high-rises.

The operation was set up by Orix Corp., a leading general leasing company, and Suzuki Motor Corp.

CEV Sharing mainly offers compact cars, as they cost less than larger vehicles, and Suzuki has equipped them with electronic card-readers and communication devices.

CEV Sharing has 11 stations with two or three cars each in Yokohama and central Tokyo.

In Yokohama, there are two types of memberships: one with a monthly fee of 5,250 yen and a charge of 157 yen per 15 minutes of use, and the other with a monthly fee of 2,100 yen and 262 yen per 15 minutes.

Mitsumasa Takayama, the company’s executive director, explained: “A compact car costs its owner about 2.3 million yen over three years, which includes the initial purchase price as well as maintenance expenses for a car driven an average of 240 km a month.

“But a member using our system will only have to lay out about 750,000 yen to 1 million yen in the same period, and the money saved can be used for other purposes.”

At the Mark Springs housing complex developed by Orix Real Estate Corp. of Tokyo in Yokohama’s Seya Ward, the company began their car-sharing business in March with two cars. Cars are indispensable because the complex is far from railway stations.

A company official said, “Each house has its own parking space, but car-sharing has been introduced in response to calls from households where the husband uses the family car for work and the wife needs a second car to take the children to kindergarten or to go shopping.”

In Nagoya, Tokai Kyujin Service Co. began a car-sharing business with 10 compact cars, using CEV Sharing’s system. There are four stations in the city.

“We would like to create a system in which cars can be used anywhere by building a nationwide network with other car-sharing companies in the future,” a company official said.

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