Independent vs. Company Taxis
Taxis with 個人 are independent taxi drivers who work for themselves. For the most part they are good but their care and attention isn’t as standardized and consistent as organized taxi companies. The reason being, taxi companies are really strict when it comes to training drivers on how to treat patrons.
Taxi companies provide a standardized and relatively high level of service for patrons, compared to most independent taxi drivers. Company drivers will literally bend over backwards for you. For example, MK Taxi has a unique door service policy. Most taxis have the “magic door” (automatic taxi doors), but MK taxi drivers literally slide/jump across the front seat to open the door for the customer on the other side of the car. Small touches like these let you know you are in the hands of service professionals with little white gloves.
Two of the better taxi companies in Kyoto are MK (heart logo) and Yasaka (clover logo).
Taxi Fare System
Basically, the fare depends on a confusing mixture of distance, time and size of taxi. If you look closely at the window of the back door on the left side, then you’ll see a small sticker similar to this one. For example, this sticker indicates it is 630 Yen anywhere within 2 kilometers and roughly 80 Yen for every 394 metres traveled. However, the deceptive part is that this fare price (distance and time) is only if the taxi were to continue without any stops. It is virtually impossible to get anywhere without encountering a stop light in Kyoto, so the metre continues to run no matter what. I suggest using this fare price as a generalization only. Together with distance and time, the size of the car also matters.
In Japanese, the size of the taxi is represented by these two characters on the sticker.
The small taxi can fit up to 4 passengers (3-back; 1-front). The mid-sized taxi can fit up to 5 persons (3-back; 2-front). Of course this all depends on the size of each individual passenger. Naturally the mid-size taxi costs more, so if you have 4 passengers or less keep a look out for 「小」and the fare will be a little cheaper.
Credit cards are usually accepted by MK and Yasaka Taxi. However, I found many other taxis either didn’t have credit card service or had no idea how to use the credit card machine. An easy way to figure out if the taxi accepts credit cards is to have a quick look at the same area the fare is indicated. You should also be able to see a list of credit cards. If there are none, the taxi probably doesn’t accept credit cards. In any case, try using your best gestures or actually show the driver the credit card to confirm with the driver.
As in most countries a small taxi lamp on the roof etc. indicates a taxi’s availability. In the evening, it is the same as in most countries. When lit, the little symbol on top of the taxi indicates in service and out of service when dim. There are also another indicator in the front window with either a blue or red sign. The blue sign 賃走 means it’s unavailable and the red 空車 means available. Day or night, look for these indicators in the front window.
Finding Your Destination With a Phone Number
Similar to anywhere else, there are well-known and lesser known places in Kyoto. However, I’ve noticed there can be a noticeable information gap with both Independent Taxi and Company Taxi drivers. To ensure you arrive at the right place, I suggest a very useful tactic. Most taxis are outfitted with GPS systems and they are able to find a place by inputting a phone number or actually phone the destination to confirm its location.
There is no formal custom of tipping in Japan. However, taxi drivers and other service industry worker’s (hotels, restaurants etc.) wages are very low. Also, the 10% service charge added into prices is not passed on to the staff. In most cases, taxi drivers will take tips when offered, so don’t worry about embarrassing them. If you want to tip, then tip.
In a blink of an eye, the door is open for you. Believe me, it takes a little getting used to but the left back door opens automatically. Please do not open or close it. The driver has a magic lever next to him and will gladly open and close the door for you. Also, it’s inconvenient but the right door is typically locked and the driver will direct you to the left side. The reasoning is to keep customers out of danger from walking out into traffic on the right side.
Receipt: Life Saver
Taxi drivers usually give you a receipt and it has their name along with other details on it. I would hold on to the receipt, especially in the case you have mistakenly forgotten your wallet, camera or any other articles in the taxi. This happens from time to time, but Japanese drivers are pretty honest. At the Hyatt, drivers routinely returned credit cards, wallets, and phones. Lost articles usually are sent to a general lost & found for taxis, but retrieving the articles can sometimes take a week, so knowing the driver’s details will ensure a prompt return if found.
I heard an amazing statistic. Kyoto has the most taxis per capita in the world. This is evident when you stroll down the main street of Shijo in the evening. It’s impossible to miss the the endless line of taxis. When you see taxis lined up at major places (train stations, temples etc.) you must use the taxi at the beginning of the line. You may ask yourself which one is it? Usually the first taxi has its door open, beckoning you. When you are simply walking down the street, then you can hail a taxi as would anywhere else.
◊ Pictures from Greg Koch