Cosplaying taxis with monster drivers to offer free rides to cosplayers in Shibuya (Tokyo) this Halloween

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RocketNews 24 (by Oona McGee):

Halloween in Japan keeps getting bigger and better every year, with cosplayers coming out in droves to celebrate the world of costumes and make-believe. This time around, Japanese car manufacturer Nissan is joining the fun with a fleet of taxis dressed up in Halloween costumes, complete with “monster drivers” behind the wheel.

The monsters and their vehicles will be helping fellow ogres and ghouls by offering free rides to people in costume in the Shibuya area on October 29 and 31. What’s more, the unusual vans promise to be so spacious, they’ll accommodate any type of outfit you’re wearing!

The event, called “Ride on Halloween by Nissan”, will feature three “costumed” vehicles: an orange Jack-o-Lantern, a purple-and-green Frankenstein (‘Frankenstein’s Monster’ for the purists), and a pale-brown, bandaged Mummy.

▼ They may be monsters, but they’re Japanese taxi-driving monsters, so they’ll all be wearing white gloves.

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The promotion is designed to showcase the spacious nature of Nissan’s NV200 taxi, which has been ferrying people around New York and London for several years and will finally be making its debut in Japan as part of the preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

▼ New York marked the debut of the NV200 taxi with a #HAILYES interactive marketing campaign in 2013.

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In Japan, they’re using Halloween to highlight the roomy interior of the new taxis, by offering the free rides to cosplayers to show how a van ride can be superior to a sedan ride, especially when you and your clothes take up a extra space. The driver of each vehicle will also take part in the dress-up!

You can catch a ride at three as-yet-unannounced designated pick-up and drop-off points in the Shibuya area, which is one of the main hubs for Halloween celebrations every year.

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The taxis will run between 6:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. on 29 and 31 October. The organisers have pointed out that free rides are limited only to those in costume and rides cannot be guaranteed, so if you really want to step inside the cosplaying vehicles, you might want to try your luck before the night of Halloween, when there’s less chance of monsters lurking about.

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The pick-up and drop-off points will be announced soon, so be sure to check out the official campaign website for updates!

What will happen to Uber in China? Car-sharing app faces uncertain landscape and well-funded competitors

 ChinaFile:

Ride-sharing app Uber has expanded around the world at a blistering pace, launching in a new city every one or two days. At first glance, China would appear the ideal fit for the Silicon Valley startup. Most urban residents in the world’s second-largest economy rely on sclerotic local taxi monopolies whose numbers have failed to match the country’s breakneck urbanization: the population of the capital Beijing, for example, has grown by nearly 50 percent to 20 million in the past ten years, while its taxi fleet of 66,000 remains the same size it was in 2003. The potential for a better way to get around town is clearly immense.

But on December 23, Uber suffered a setback when local authorities raided its office in the large southern city of Chongqing, a sign the company may encounter regulatory scrutiny in China similar to what it has encountered in other countries. Uber’s Chongqing travails initially appear to be yet another case in the recent string of large foreign firms finding themselves in the crosshairs of Chinese regulators—often to the benefit of domestic champions. It may come as a surprise, then, that Uber’s local competitors have come in for their share of official scrutiny as well.

Foreign and domestic ride-sharing apps both brush against powerful vested interests here, meaning that app makers, riders, and drivers all need to prepare for a bumpy ride.

China’s ride-on-demand market has been so ripe for the picking that when Uber launched there in February this year, it quickly found itself a small player in a market dominated by existing alternatives. These include “black taxis”—low-tech drivers peddling rides outside of the official taxi system—as well as two domestic taxi-hailing and ride-sharing apps backed by deep-pocketed local Internet firms: Didi Dache (roughly “Honk honk, hail a cab”), which is integrated with social network titan Tencent, and Kuaidi Dache (meaning “Quickly hail a cab”), funded by e-commerce giant Alibaba. (On the same day Uber was raided, the U.S. firm also announced it had secured backing from a third internet giant, search engine firm Baidu, a move that Uber hopes will give it more resources to battle the local players.)

Both Didi and Kuaidi got their start as apps helping riders to hail traditional taxis from the local monopolies, allowing users to entice cab drivers with tips. The apps’ tech giant backers poured money into promotions and bonuses—which included literally paying drivers and riders to use their apps—to drum up supply and demand. The strategy has succeeded; taxi-hailing apps now count 154 million Chinese users. Didi alone boasts100 million users and 900,000 registered taxi drivers spread across 178 cities, with more than 5 million rides booked every day. Even after a decline following the termination of the major promotions, the apps remain in heavy nationwide use, appearing to vindicate the apps’ early, money-burning tactics.

Having conquered the taxi-hailing market, over the summer both Kuaidi and Didi separately rolled out secondary services for riding in private cars that compete more directly with Uber’s bread and butter. These offerings provide tiers of service, with car models going all the way up to high-end Audis. The private car services are still new, but Didi and Kuaidi and their deep-pocketed backers have made clear they aren’t afraid to spend lavishly on early promotions and subsidies to build the market.

It would appear that China’s ride-on-demand market is Didi and Kuaidi’s to lose.

Those apps’ private drivers are less sanguine. One told me that although business is good, “Didi is still new, so who knows if the government might ban it later?” It’s a line that illustrates the difficult relationship that firms on the cutting edge of business innovation often have with Chinese authorities.

Even before Didi and Kuaidi launched their private car services, their taxi-hailing functions already encountered considerable scrutiny and the occasional bans from city governments for most of their two-year lifespans. That has led to different regulatory regimes in different cities. For example, Didi’s ability to attract cabbies with the promise of hefty tips was still functional on this author’s recent trip to the regional capital city of Changsha, while as of late October, that option had apparently been removed in Shanghai, China’s largest city. Rumors swirled that authorities here were trying to protect traditional taxi reservation hotlines, or were attempting to prize the city’s taxis from the grasp of a smartphone-wielding technorati that had grown used to luring drivers with tips, leaving the elderly and other riders who still hail cabs the old-fashioned way coughing in the dust.

But another theory goes that Didi and Kuaidi removed the tipping function themselves, in order to push well-heeled riders to consider their new Uber-like private car services, which still allow tipping. But private car services also have seen their share of sniping from interest groups and regulators, in many cases well before the December raid on Uber’s Chongqing office. By adding private car services to their existing taxi-hailing functions, the apps have gone from helping traditional taxis secure riders and tips to cultivating competing services that step on the toes of local taxi monopolies, which are often state-owned and constitute influential vested interests. Cab drivers in some cities already have complained that private car services are eating into their business, with cabbies in the large city of Nanjing threatening to boycott Didi’s taxi-hailing app if the firm did not remove the private car function. Local governments have also come down on these native apps on grounds similar to those countries like Belgium have cited in restricting Uber: i.e., the cars act like taxis but aren’t licensed like taxis, making them technically illegal. The large industrial city of Shenyang has already banned the private car service, and others like the major seaport of Dalian have questioned its legality too.

I used Didi to ride with several private car drivers, and found them understandably concerned about a potential ban on their new business. A Shanghai native surnamed Wang drove for Didi’s private car service full time, and was thus most vulnerable to any future regulation. Like all drivers I met, Wang was aware of the potential for a government ban on Didi and its competitors, but called it a double standard, noting the government had “allowed fleets of ‘black taxis’ to operate around Shanghai’s train station and other hubs with impunity for years.” Called “black” because they are illegal, black taxis have been a mainstay of Chinese city streets before smartphones even existed, taking advantage of the surplus demand created by limited taxi fleets. They offer rides to the impatient or desperate for unmetered fares that are bargained on the spot—usually to the disadvantage of those unfamiliar with the city.

If the authorities could turn a blind eye to black taxis, asked Mr. Wang, shouldn’t they be lenient towards Didi’s more professional private car service as well? After all, his clean Volkswagen SUV offered standard Didi features like bottled water and a charging port, and his friendly service and metered fares tallied by Didi’s app added up to a far better experience than that offered by the rundown black taxis with their shady drivers. Wang may have answered his own question.

Since the apps are far better organized and provide superior service, they represent a more significant threat to traditional cabs than black taxis ever could, which has inspired a stronger protectionist response.

Not all drivers were bitter about the threat of government action. One cheerful Didi driver, also surnamed Wang (no relation), came from the city of Xi’an and drove for the app as a lucrative sideline to his day job running a boxed-lunch business for office workers. He acknowledged that his part-time work probably infringed on taxi drivers’ territory and was resigned to the possibility that government action would put an end to it, but he was happy for the extra income while it lasted.

Drivers continue to participate in Didi’s private car service despite the uncertainties in part because Didi pays generous subsidies to drivers who receive high customer ratings, a gambit that echoes it and Kuaidi’s earlier promotions for taxis. (In an attempt to curry rider favor, some drivers even go beyond the app makers’ basic requirements like bottled water, providing extra touches such as medicine for carsickness.) Mr. Wang from Shanghai told me he was earning about $1,600 per month, thanks to subsidies and bonuses, more than Shanghai’s average white-collar salary of about $1,180. Wang’s father had been a cab driver and drove crushing hours, sometimes from 7 o’clock a.m. until midnight or later, without weekends; the younger Wang felt his hours were much easier. Bonuses fluctuate daily, but at their best can let drivers pocket double what passengers pay in fares, with Didi making up the difference. Given that Didi and Kuaidi battled for taxi-hailing market shares earlier this year by literally paying drivers and riders to use their apps, this latest subsidy scheme appears to be an effort to flood the streets with private cars at key times, making the service more convenient in the eyes of riders while also undercutting less well-funded competitors.

Uber may in the future find itself ensnared in more regulatory troubles with local Chinese authorities, but it won’t be alone. Didi and Kuaidi’s private car services have already upset the old system, in which traditional cabs dominated and black taxis mopped up excess demand without providing any real competition. Kuaidi has expressed confidence that it has the market knowledge and official relationships to ride out the initial wave of government scrutiny, though only time can tell if that is the case. In the meantime, drivers and riders can enjoy the services’ financial generosity and convenience—while they last.

Kyoto taxi drivers reduce convenience store robberies by 50 percent by doing absolutely nothing

RocketNews 24:

Throughout 2014, Kyoto Prefectural Police began an initiative having taxi drivers and late-night convenience stores work together to reduce incidents of armed robbery. Although still early, the program has so far been rousing success, leading to a 48 percent decrease in convenience store robberies compared to the previous year. They also get extra points for giving it the cool name of “Midnight Defender Strategy”.

■ Vigilance through hanging out

When first coming to Japan, one of the odd things I noticed was that in every convenience store you’d be likely to see a line of people at the magazine rack reading entire manga volumes and issues of Vogue. Where I come from such behavior would cause the clerk to issue a four-letter-word-laden reminder that I was not, in fact, inside a library.

At first I thought the staff in Japan were just too timid to confront these lookie-loos, but I later learned that such free reading was allowed because, in a roundabout way, these people are helping to guard the store by keeping it from emptying out.

However, these readers are usually your average students and office workers who have to go home at some point, leaving the stores without any loiterers to protect them. It’s during this dangerous window of 10:00pm to 7:00am that most convenience store robberies occur.

This is where the humble cab driver comes in.

■ Midnight Defenders

In Kyoto about half of the convenience stores had signed on for the Midnight Defender Strategy. These 500 or so shops hung posters with slogans such as “vigilance strengthening” written on them in their windows. These signs are indicators to taxi drivers that they are allowed to park there as long as they like during breaks. The stores lose a few parking spaces in the process but gain some extra eyes which may be enough to deter a would-be bandit from making their move.

Since the program started in September 2013 the number of armed robberies among participating stores dropped to four compared to 18 in the previous year. On the other hand, the shops which were not in the Midnight Defender Strategy saw an increase in robberies, up from seven to nine incidents compared to the year before. Overall the total number of robberies was nearly halved in the prefecture.

Police are clearly happy with the results and the shops are also pleased with not have knives waved in their faces, with one manager commenting: “Having the drivers around for any amount of time leads to a sense of security. Our midnight staff especially thanks them.”

Taxi drivers are also pleased with the arrangement. “It really helps to have a guaranteed spot to park for breaks,” said one, “and I’m happy to contribute to crime prevention too.”

It appears to be a win-win-win situation for all involved, and if the number of robberies continues to be low we can expect to see the Midnight Defender Strategy pop up in other prefectures across Japan.

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Nissan unveils the NV200, London’s new black taxi

 

Nissan claims its new 1.6-liter gasoline engine is cleaner than the current diesel cabs cruising the streets of the British capital.

The NV200 cab for London is part of Nissan’s global taxi program, which also encompasses New York, Barcelona and Tokyo. The London version’s design is bespoke, reflecting the rich heritage and status of London’s black cabs,” the company said.

Unveiled in August 2012, the cab was redesigned after feedback from Mayor Boris Johnson’s office called for a closer resemblance to the black cab “face,” with bigger headlights, a prominent taxi sign and a big grille.

The new cab adheres to the strict regulations governing the capital’s black cabs — known officially as Hackney Carriages — including the required 25-foot (7.6-meter) turning circle.

The cab will be produced at Nissan’s plant in Barcelona, Spain, and modifications will be added in Britain, home to the firm’s huge Sunderland plant.

It will go on sale in London in December priced about £30,000 (¥5 million).

The company enters the market as the original maker of London’s famous black cabs finds a new life.

While the fuel-efficient minivan is already in use as a taxi in Tokyo and New York, the appearance of the London model has been modified to blend in with existing British cabs, Nissan said.

Nissan was initially planning to sell the model this spring but postponed it to the end of the year due to the design alterations, it said. The automaker is scheduled to launch an electric version of the vehicle in 2015.

Chinese auto manufacturer Zhejiang Geely Holding Group last year rescued from bankruptcy what is now known as London Taxi Co.

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Nissan unveils the NV200, London’s new black taxi

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Indonesia’s taxis now have internet

Indonesia’s taxis now have internet

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Indonesia’s capital city, Jakarta, is notorious for its traffic jams, and it’s just a waste of time getting stuck on the road as you head to your next meeting. One taxi fleet recognizes this problem and wishes to put a smile on the face of its passengers by offering free wi-fi.

Express Group has free wi-fi installed in 400 of its taxis in Jakarta, Depok, Tangerang, and Bekasi areas. These special cabs will have a Huawei wi-fi hotspot logo on the back of each vehicle. Yes, these cabs are using Huawei E5520 routers, which explains the Huawei logo.

The free wi-fi program is run jointly between Chinese phone-maker and telecoms hardware giant Huawei, IT product distributor Intertec, and local telco Telkomsel. This pilot program will last for six months and might be extended if the company gets good results out of it. Express Group is the second largest taxi fleet in Indonesia, commanding about 11 percent market share in the country.

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