Car sharing schemes, in which several drivers share a vehicle owned by a separate business, are becoming an economical alternative to private car ownership in urban areas.
Yosuke Tsutsumi, 34, gave up his beloved BMW and joined a car sharing scheme in April. A self-confessed car lover with an A-grade racing license, he finally made the decision to leave his foreign car hobby for the future after discovering that he was spending over 100,000 yen a month on his vehicle. The car sharing station just a few minutes' walk away offered him a way of cutting that by two-thirds.
In the two months since joining, he's used the scheme around 10 times, for his band and so on.
"As a result, I'm taking the train more, and can enjoy drinking when I go out," he says.
Under the Road Transportation Law, car sharing schemes are similar to car rental, but are restricted to registered customers. According to the Eco-Mo Foundation -- the Foundation for Promoting Personal Mobility and Ecological Transportation -- the practice started in Europe in the late 80s, and now has around 650,000 users around the world, mostly in the U.S. and Europe. The highest rate of uptake is in Switzerland, where 1.1 percent of the total population -- about 85,000 people -- are registered users.
The first scheme in Japan began in 2002. Just 6,396 users were registered as of January, but the number of users doubled over the past year.
Industry leader ORIX Auto Corp. runs a fleet of 330 cars, with around 5,000 registered users. On registering, each one has to buy a smart card worth 6,730 yen, as well as pay a monthly charge of 2,980 yen. On top of this, users incur time and distance charges (190 yen per 15 minutes, and 14 yen per kilometer), which also covers insurance and gasoline used. Overall, it works out cheaper than a standard rental car for periods of less than five hours.
Users can book a car via their PC or mobile phone, and pick it up at their nearest car sharing station, located in parking lots and so on. The keys are left inside the vehicle, which is opened using the user's smart card, and time and distance data is reported automatically to a central data center, which charges the user's credit card.
Between April and May, the company finished establishing car sharing stations near all 29 Yamanote Line stations, and launched a PR campaign promoting accessibility between the train system and the scheme. Orix plans to target business customers next, hopefully creating a steady stream of bookings between weekday business users and private users on weekends.
Since January other businesses are also entering the market, including Car Sharing Japan Co. with their "careco" service, JR East Rental&Lease and second-hand car dealer Gulliver International. Parking lot operator Park24, which placed Mazda Car Rental Corp. under its umbrella, will create 1,000 car-sharing stations in five years.
As well as public schemes, some apartment management companies are starting to offer car sharing schemes. Yoshie Hara, 37, bought an apartment offering such a scheme in Tokyo's Higashimurayama. Private car ownership was costing her nearly 20,000 yen a month in parking fees alone; the apartment car scheme costs around 300 yen an hour in comparison, and total use for shopping and commuting costs just 6,000 yen or so in total.
Real estate management firm Ask Corp. plans to expand its fleet of cars in the Tokyo metropolitan area from 30 to 1,000 cars by next fiscal year. Tsuneo Imako, the driving force behind the plan, says: "We'd like apartment complex management unions that have problems with maintaining automated parking lots to consider introducing such a scheme."
"As well as controlling the number of cars on the road, it promotes a shift toward using public transport and bicycles, and so the government regards its as one of the measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions," says the Eco-Mo Foundation. "The acceleration in uptake among large businesses, will make services more accessible."