Wed, Jul 17, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Rental cars in Japan are used for anything but driving

The Guardian, TOKYO

Car rental companies in Japan have figured out why some customers are returning their vehicles with barely a kilometer on the clock.

Rather than travel from from A to B, as many as one in eight “drivers” are using their rental cars to grab forty winks, catch up on work or even brush up their language skills, according to industry surveys.

The unusual habits came to light after Orix Auto found a number of its 230,000 registered users were not driving their rented vehicles, Asahi Shimbun reported.

Other rental firms noticed similar anomalies in their customers’ odometer records and approached them hoping to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Times24, which has more than 1.2 million registered users, found that some clients napped, worked or even used their rented vehicles as storage space for personal belongings when nearby regular lockers were full.

Asahi Shimbun quoted one respondent, a company worker in his early 30s, as saying: “I rented a car to eat a boxed meal that I bought at a convenience store, because I couldn’t find anywhere else to eat.”

The newspaper cited the ease with which cars could be reserved online, noting that Times24 cars cost as little as ¥400 (US$3.71) for 30 minutes and were available for collection from more than 12,000 locations across Japan.

NTT Docomo, which operates a similar service, found in a survey last year of 400 customers that one in eight did not rent cars to drive, with most of the non-motoring respondents saying that they used them to sleep in or to talk on their cellphone to family, friends and business clients.

Some preferred to take advantage of the peace and quiet to watch TV or practice their singing or spoken English.

“Cars can be used as a private space,” a Docomo official said. “People used our vehicles in more ways than we expected.”

Orix appeared to disapprove of people using its vehicles for anything other than driving, and reminded customers of the environmental harm caused by leaving engines running to power the air conditioning or heating while they snoozed or sang karaoke.

“Motorists should shut off their engines when they’re not driving, and we do not recommend that our customers rent vehicles for purposes other than traveling,” an Orix official said, according to the newspaper. “We believe it’s best for our cars to be used for driving.”

Orix Auto is one of several companies that allow registered users to reserve cars online and unlock their chosen vehicle with a prepaid card.

For a monthly fee of ¥2,000, the firm offers a standard car for as little as ¥200 for 15 minutes. catering to the solo customer.

The need for a restorative daytime snooze is clear. One survey conducted using fitness trackers in 28 countries found that Japanese men and women slept on average for just six hours and 35 minutes a night — 45 minutes less than the international average. That made them the most sleep-deprived of all the nations surveyed, a phenomenon blamed partly on punishing working hours and long commutes.

A separate poll by the health products maker Fuji Ryoki found that 92.6 percent of Japanese over the age of 20 said that they were not getting enough sleep.

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