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Taxi free-riders challenging the calmness of Japanese people's behaviors

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The other day, I was in a taxi going to Tokyo station. On the way, I was talking with the taxi driver about the incidents he had experienced with customers. I was amazed to hear that free-riding had been one of the main occurring incidents. So I thought, "In Japan? Free-riding? How could they?"

He responded, "For instance, a person tells me to take them to a convenience store and they never show up again. Or others, to a building of flats, and they disappear." Then I asked, "Is that without asking them to leave their luggage or money?" He replied, "Well, it would be quite rude, I think, to ask a customer to leave something of theirs or to make a settlement, so..."

I said, "Well, there have been cases when I have sudden stomachache on the way to my destination and ask the driver to stop at a convenience store to use the restroom. In that case, if the driver asks for a payment, that would surely feel odd. Or, if the driver asks me to leave something behind, that might consequently cause other concerns such as whether I can trust the driver not to drive away with it."

I asked the driver how frequently those free-rides occur. He answered he had been driving taxies for fifteen years, and experienced them four to five times, so approximately once in three years. The driver said, "No special occasions, no specific seasons. When I am about to forget one, another one happens!"

"What do you do when a free-ride happens?" I couldn't resist asking him. He replied, "I'm required to compensate the fare amount to the company, that's it. For the company, it doesn't matter whether I was successful in retrieving the money or not." I asked, "In those cases, how much is the damage?" He said, "Mostly around 6,000 to less than 10,000 yen."

In Japan, there are generally two kinds of taxies; taxies that are under companies' operation and privately owned. In the former case, the company owns the vehicles, employs drivers, retrieves payments collected by the drivers, and then pays the drivers a base salary plus incentives. The drivers don't wait too long for the perpetrators to come back, because the meter also charges for the waiting time, and the damage gets worse if they don't show up.

"Well, the free riders surely are confident in what they are doing. They are really good at it." The driver said sadly and ironically. It is almost like a crime challenging the calmness of Japanese people's behaviors.

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