The Tokyo Fire Department started using cabs Friday to transport people to the hospital if they are not in critical condition so more ambulances can be used for emergency cases, department officials said.

The “support cab” system, the first of its kind in Japan, was launched basically for patients who make emergency calls to the department to get information on the availability of hospitals, particularly at night, the officials said.

In the future, patients who ask for ambulances but are in less serious condition will also be asked to use the cabs instead of ambulances, they said.

Under the system, patients who call the department will be referred to a call center operated around the clock, which will file dispatch requests with contracted cab firms.

The department has contracted firms that meet certain criteria, including having global positioning systems and drivers who know first-aid.

The department said 350,000 ambulances were dispatched in the first half of the year. The annual total is expected to surpass the record 678,000 seen last year.

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