Too far to walk? Try a shared ultra-compact car

Too far to walk? Try a shared ultra-compact car
The ultra-compact i-Road travels along a public road in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.
PHOTO: The Japan News/Asia News Network

What do you do when your destination is three kilometers away from the nearest train station? It may be a little too far to walk.

What if you have to change trains several times to reach a location, even though the most direct road route is a relatively short distance?

Car-sharing schemes have recently been gaining attention as a convenient way of getting around.

Late last year, three ultra-compact electric cars appeared at a station on National Highway Route 1 in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.

It was set up as part of a feasibility study being conducted by parking-lot operator Park24 Co., the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry and other organisations.

The Kokudo Ichigo (National Highway Route 1) Otemachi Station car-sharing station in Chiyoda Ward, where a feasibility study is being conducted by the transport ministry and other organizations.
Photo: The Japan News/Asia News Network

"It's the first initiative in Japan [for a station to be set up] on a road. The convenient location is useful even for people who return home late from work," said Tomoya Watanabe, 30, an employee of Park24's management division.

Users can borrow vehicles at any time of the day and return them to any available parking station.

By using the vehicles together with public transport, journey times to a destination can be drastically shortened.

The car-sharing app Ha:mo Ride displays the locations of available vehicles and parking stations around the Chuo Ward area. Photo: The Japan News/Asia News Network

A dedicated app allows users to check the availability of stations and vehicles at about 100 locations in Tokyo and reserve vehicles just 30 minutes in advance.

The main vehicles used in the study are single-seater Coms, which have a small trunk and a range of about 50 kilometers.

They run quietly, and the windows can be opened.

First-time users have to attend an about-90 minute training lecture before they can drive an i-Road. Photo: The Japan News/Asia News Network

The i-Road motor-tricycle, which is not available for sale to the general public, is also used in the trial, and training lectures for this car are mainly held on weekends.

Hidenori Suzuki, 31, who took part in one of the lectures, struggled to get accustomed to the three-wheeled vehicle's handling.

"It's hard to drive at low speeds because it has rear-wheel steering," Suzuki said.

Yurakucho ITOCiA in Chiyoda Ward is one of the parking stations equipped with charging machines. Photo: The Japan News/Asia News Network

The transport ministry intends to seek further co-operation with the operators of public transportation systems and car-sharing services to promote their use in the future.

Car-sharing schemes using ultra-compact vehicles that can be dropped off at multiple locations have the potential to make getting around more convenient.

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