The base fare for short taxi rides in Tokyo will get cheaper starting on Jan. 30 in a bid to lure the business of foreign tourists and the elderly.

The new rate, applied to cabs in Tokyo’s 23 wards and the suburban cities of Musashino and Mitaka, sets the initial fare of ¥380 to ¥410 for the first 1.052 km, against the current ¥700 to ¥730 for 2 km, the transportation ministry announced Tuesday.

The new rate also charges as much as an additional ¥80 per 237 meters of travel, against the current ¥90 per 280 meters, the ministry said.

The new fare will match the current initial starting fare of ¥730 at the 2-km mark of a trip, but it will become more expensive when traveling 6.5 km or longer. In other words, short trips will become cheaper, but longer trips will get more expensive.

A drop in the base fare has been a long-sought wish for taxi operators in Tokyo, where the industry has seen a decline in customers, said Takashi Nomura, a spokesman for Tokyo-based Nihon Kotsu Co.

“Using a taxi in Tokyo has been pricey for short-distance travelers when compared to other cities like New York and London,” he said. “By making the rate closer to that of other foreign cities, we hope to attract more foreign tourists to use our service.”

The road transportation law stipulates that taxi operators need to gain approval from the transport ministry to change fares. About 70 percent of taxi operators in Tokyo have jointly urged the government to lower the base fare since April, Nomura said.

The transport ministry conducted a trial of the ¥410 initial fare in four Tokyo wards from August to September to gauge demand.

About 60 percent of nearly 10,000 Japanese nationals who used taxis during the trial answered that they would use cabs more often if the lower fare was implemented, according to the ministry’s survey. About 80 percent of 167 foreign nationals answered that ¥410 is either cheap or appropriate, the same survey showed.

Nomura said the change would not greatly affect the revenue of taxi operators, because the fare for long-distance travelers will make up for the reduced rate on shorter rides.

“Conventionally, taxis have been used mainly by business people. But as the population continues to age, we wanted our service to become more accessible for various customers” such as the elderly and parents with small children, he said.

Meanwhile, some taxi drivers worry that the change will directly hit their wallets.

Kazunori Kawasaki, a secretary general for the Tokyo branch of All Japan Automobile Transport Workers’ Unions, said the change would affect the salary of taxi drivers in residential areas in suburbs, where about 30 percent of taxi users travel less than 2 km.

“Many taxi drivers get paid on a commission-based system … If their sales decrease in suburbs, they will have to come to the city, and that causes excessive competition,” he said, adding that an influx of taxis would cause traffic jams and exacerbate air pollution in metropolitan Tokyo.

“We have maintained a fair supply-and-demand balance of taxi drivers in cities and suburbs. But if the initial price becomes lower, some drivers would have no way to survive but to go to the city,” he said.

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