With the Olympic Games looming, the government and Tokyo taxi companies are looking at ways to overhaul how they charge and to become a little more English-friendly.

Taxis in Japan, particularly Tokyo, tend to get a good reputation from foreigners for their helpfulness, politeness, and those rear passenger doors that open remotely like you’re getting into some kind of transformer. However, according to studies Tokyo cabs do tend to lose marks when considering their relatively high fares and, for some tourists, lack of English ability.

The money issue appears to be the taxi industry’s biggest hurdle as they have been seeing a steady decline in passengers in recent years. Working with the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism, their current strategy is to cut the initial fare and encourage people to take shorter trips. Earlier this year, a test run was held in which special taxis with a reduced initial fare was held.

Regularly, a taxi will charge 730 yen (US$7.17) for the first two kilometers (1.24 miles). This means that if you only wanted to go about one kilometer, you’d end up feeling kind of ripped off. So the Ministry wanted to see if people would go for a taxi that only charged 460 yen ($4.52) for the first 1.16 kilometers (0.72 miles).

However, these cabs also charge 90 yen for each additional 280 meters. If you crunch the numbers, you’ll find that a two-kilometer trip this way works out to exactly 730 yen – in case you were wondering what that extra 0.16 kilometers was about.

Now, the Ministry and 23 taxi companies are running 40 experimental special cabs offering 410 yen for the first 1.059 kilometers and 80 yen for every 237 meters afterwards. Unlike the previous offer, passengers stand to save money to the tune of a whopping 2 yen ($0.02) on a 2-kilometer trip. However, beyond this point, the experimental system will become more and more expensive than the current fare.

▼ According to test runs by NHK reporters you can get from Shimbashi Station through the dense traffic of Ginza to the edge of Kyobashi before you start paying more than regular fare.

So it seems that Tokyo cabs will remain one of the most expensive in the world for the time being, but at least it looks as if they’ll be getting more convenient for short trips. Speaking of convenience, a plan is also in place to make taxis more friendly to the expected wave of overseas visitors to the city.

The Tokyo Hire-Taxi Association is establishing a new certification for drivers with a certain level of proficiency in English. Any driver who can get above 600 points on the TOEIC English test can apply to be a Tokyo Sightseeing Taxi in English, which they insist on abbreviating as “TSTiE.”

Reading “TSTiE Driver” out loud you probably can’t help but imagine an exceptionally irate cabbie…or possibly some sort of wrestling maneuver using male genitalia. Unfortunate acronyms aren’t all that uncommon – just ask the American Symphony Orchestra League, who have since changed their name. However, when the primary goal of your abbreviation is to highlight an understanding English you really ought to give it a thorough screening.

Creative accounting and kooky acronyms aside, these little perks should help to make taxis in Tokyo more accessible. If you happen to be in Tokyo and want to try out a 410-yen cab, they will be departing from the east exit of Shimbashi Station until 15th September as well as from taxi stands in front of Asakusa Station until 18 August, at the east exit of Shinjuku Station from 19 August to 1 September, and in front of The University of Tokyo Hospital from 2 to 15 September.

On the other hand, if you want a TSTiE Driver, then you may have to wait until they reach their desired number of 300 in time for the 2020 Olympics. For now you can just take a regular taxi driver and poke him in the ear.

Source: NHK News Web, Sankei (Japanese)
Top Image: Wikipedia/Hajime Nakano
Inset Image: Tokyo Hire-Taxi Association (Edited by RocketNews24)