According to The Asahi Shimbun today, a trial car-sharing service that could drastically transform Japan's urban scenery is already making its mark in the central Tokyo area.
Since April, eye-catching three-wheeled electric vehicles have offered convenient alternative transportation for commuters.
The service uses the "i-Road" ultra-compact vehicle made by Toyota Motor Corp. The so-called personal mobility vehicle is advertised as combining the ease-of-handling of a motorcycle and the comfort of a four-wheel car.
The joint trial venture through the end of September is managed by Toyota and Park24 Co., which operates hourly parking facilities around Japan, to gather usage data and user feedback.
An underground parking facility managed by Park21 in the Yurakucho shopping district in central Tokyo has five electric chargers that can provide power to i-Road vehicles used in the one-way car-sharing experiment.
Park24 is a leading provider in car-sharing, which allows members to use share cars at any time of day, and currently has 510,000 registered users.
Each i-Road car used in the trial, painted black and white, is only 2.3 meters long and 87 centimeters wide. This means that at least two of the vehicles can fit in the parking space for a regular car.
The one-seater, roofed vehicle has a maximum speed of 60 kph and can travel 50 km when fully charged.
The personal mobility vehicle is touted as offering ideal transportation in a car-sharing setting, because users primarily use rental vehicles for shopping in local areas and other short-distance hops.
Statistics also show that Japanese drivers primarily travel alone or with just one passenger and drive within a radius of 10 km in 60 percent of cases.
The personal mobility vehicle is also particularly eco-friendly as it consumes one-sixth of the energy used by regular cars.
The transportation ministry promotes the use of such vehicles in car-sharing services through subsidies for local governments and other entities that have introduced them.
To jump on the bandwagon, Japanese carmakers are rushing to develop ultra-compact electric vehicles and car-sharing systems that use their cars.
In a joint venture with Yokohama city, Nissan Motor Co. started a trial vehicle-sharing service, called "Choimobi Yokohama," in autumn 2013 using its New Mobility Concept ultra-compact electric vehicles. In an extended trial, 13,000 people used the service.
Toyota Auto Body Co., a Toyota subsidiary, also started providing its COMS one-seater electric vehicle to car-sharing services operated by Anjo city in Aichi Prefecture and other entities.
Honda Motor Co. has also conducted verification tests of its car-sharing service using the company’s MC-β personal mobility vehicle in Saitama city last fall.
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