Business

Taxis across Japan take to ferrying food to keep the cash flowing

Kyodo

Taxi operators across Japan hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic have launched hot meal delivery services to make up for losses after the government in April allowed them to transport food for profit as a deregulation measure.

Around 1,300 taxi operators nationwide have started delivering meals as of May 22 to overcome the hardship brought on by the virus epidemic.

In April, when the nationwide state of emergency was declared, taxi operators’ sales across the country tumbled 62.1 percent on average from a year earlier, according to a survey by the Japan Federation of Hire-Taxi Associations.

An Osaka-based taxi firm filed for bankruptcy in May, becoming the first such company in the industry to collapse as a result of the new virus epidemic.

As the central government is considering making the deregulation step permanent, many taxi companies expect the service, which enables drivers to utilize their spare time effectively, to become a new source of revenue when the pandemic is over.

Drivers for the Tsubame Taxi group in Nagoya have been delivering orders from about 30 restaurants in the city to customers since late April.

Customers are charged between ¥1,000 ($9.3) and ¥2,000 for the food to be delivered, with a maximum journey of 7 kilometers.

The taxi group company saw its sales nosedive by 70 percent in April from the previous year, after people were asked to avoid unnecessary outings under the state of emergency.

“(The delivery service) doesn’t earn enough to make up for the sales plunge, but we appreciate it as it gives us work,” said Toshiyuki Sawai, vice president of the group’s core company.

With the taxi group continuing to receive stable orders for its delivery service even after the emergency declaration was lifted in May amid a general reluctance to eat out, it plans to continue the business.

Taxi firms in other parts of the country have launched similar delivery services. An official from Kyoto-based MK Co., which began such a service in late April, said the new side business “helps increase drivers’ motivation when there are few customers.”

Food establishments that have also been struggling, in particular high-end restaurants, have pinned their hopes on the taxi delivery service.

Tsutamo, a high-class Japanese restaurant located in the busy Sakae district of Nagoya, said its sales plummeted 90 percent in April from a year earlier, but they have started to recover, helped by taxis delivering its boxed meals.

“(The service) enables our customers to enjoy the taste of ryōtei high-class Japanese food in a casual manner,” said Masao Fukada, chairman of the restaurant operator.

The delivery service has been popular because it “helps lower the hurdle of experiencing the upscale restaurant compared to visiting the place in person,” Fukada added.

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