National

Transport ministry considers fixed-fare taxi services for frequent riders

Kyodo

The transport ministry is planning to introduce fixed-fare unlimited-ride services for taxis, similar to commuter passes for trains, to help attract more customers, officials said Wednesday.

The planned service is intended to boost demand among people who regularly use taxis on fixed routes at certain times, such as commuters, seniors going to hospitals and parents escorting their children to and from cram schools, the officials from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism said.

The service may also serve as alternative transportation for people who surrender their driver’s licenses because of old age, the officials added.

With an increasing number of accidents involving older drivers, police are advising seniors to voluntarily return their licenses.

It is difficult for some to give up driving in areas where private cars are the only means of transportation.

The ministry plans to conduct demonstrations for the service in select places in fiscal 2018, the officials said, adding that necessary expenses have been earmarked in the ministry’s budget request for the year starting next April.

The service will set limits on the period, hours and areas, but frequent users will pay less than the typical taxi passenger. Further details are under review.

Taxi fares are calculated based on distance and time as set under the Road Transportation Law. The ministry plans to ease the regulations or make an exception to add the service, the officials said.

The number of people using taxis, excluding privately owned cabs, dropped nearly 30 percent in fiscal 2015 from 10 years ago, the ministry said. Industry groups have asked for flexible fare systems to spur demand.

In 2016, 162,341 drivers age 75 or older returned their driver’s licenses, National Police Agency data show.

A revised road traffic law took effect on March 12 requiring elderly people to pass tougher dementia tests when renewing their driver’s licenses as the nation grapples with more frequent traffic accidents involving drivers of advanced age.

Since then, about 56,000 licenses had been returned as of the end of May, the agency said.

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