Tokyo cabs sit idle as recession fears bite

Tue Nov 11, 2008 2:11am EST
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By Chisa Fujioka

TOKYO (Reuters) - Long queues of empty taxis line Tokyo's busy streets these days as Japanese pinch pennies and brace for an economic recession.

"You see more people waiting for buses," said Takahisa Suga, a taxi driver for eight years, as he drove around Tokyo's Otemachi financial district.

"My colleagues and I just wait and talk about how much time we have to spare."

Known for their proximity to consumer trends, taxi drivers were among 2,000 so-called "economy watchers" surveyed in a government report Tuesday that showed service sector sentiment hitting an all-time low in October.

Drivers were gloomy when asked about business, saying customers were especially hard to come by at night, even in prime entertainment areas where partygoers could previously be counted on to fetch cabs after missing the last train home.

"If you go to Ginza, Roppongi or Akasaka after 1 a.m., you'll see empty taxis everywhere," said Hiroyuki Kondo, in a navy suit and white gloves -- the customary garb of Japanese taxi drivers.

"That means companies are cutting back on entertainment."

During the day, those shelling out for taxis are keeping rides short, said Suga. Fewer customers take rides he refers to as "longs," or those adding up to more than 3,000 yen ($31).   Continued...