It is rather rare to hear about innovative services worth writing about in the website of science news. However, recently Toyota introduced a new car sharing service in Okinawa, which technologically is a rather interesting solution to commuting in this subtropical island. The service is meant for tourists and is not focused around Toyota cars that we know and frequently see on the streets. Actually, Toyota invited tourists to drive a one-seater electric car.
Although vehicle is pretty interesting, although simple, the car sharing service deserves recognition too. AT first it is only going to be a test trial, which will last through 2016. It is based on Toyota’s own Ha:mo – optimized local transport system. In 2016 tourists and local residents will be able to use these cars from island’s Motobu Peninsula, which was chosen because most popular tourist attractions are located there, including the Churaumi Aquarium, Nakijin Castle Ruins and Kouri Island.
Toyota recognizes that many tourists visit these places, which is why company is starting trials of car sharing service. Another reason is that analysis of tourism situation in the region shows that not many tourists actually stay in this area – more often they choose other places around, which makes is an economic problem for local tourism businesses.
Toyota says that car sharing service would solve these problems and with their technology would even have very small environmental impact. To ensure that, company will use its COMS car – ultra-compact electric vehicle manufactured by Toyota Auto Body. They will be available at hotels and tourist sites.
COMS is a rather interesting electric car, even though it is very basic. Maximum speed is only 60 km/h, but it is made for sightseeing rather than highway traveling. It has no side windows and is only a bit more than two metres long. It is also very narrow as only one person can sit in the car.
Company does not share the information about the range of the COMS, but as it is meant for short journeys around local tourist attractions it will not be anywhere close to capabilities of mainstream electric cars. Each of COMS is going to be equipped with a tablet running a newly developed telematics app, which recommends tourist itineraries linking local points of interest and so on. The app will also provide route choices – drivers will be able to choose courses such as a four-hour exploration tour of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Nakijin Castle Ruins and nearby traditional villages.
Representatives of Toyota note that using such small and environmentally friendly vehicles for tourism in the area is very important, as it increases the accessibility of areas such as roads that are too narrow for cars or too steep for bicycles. Because tourists usually have limited time in these places, it is important to use it efficiently, which is why electric car, such as COMS, is ideal choice. Because of this car sharing service, tourists will be able to register for the vehicles at designated hotels as well as the special website.
Toyota uses this opportunity to put its Ha:mo system through testing. It is a transport management system that seamlessly optimizes the combined use of personal vehicles and public transportation. Toyota has already started testing of this system in Toyota City since October 2012 and now is ready to expand the project with 100 COMS vehicles within a vehicle management system that connects users with vehicles and parking stations.
In this testing in Okinawa Toyota wants to see how effective and useful Ha:mo system may be in stimulating local economies and improving access to tourism sites. If it proves effective, Toyota is likely to expand the project to other touristic places as well.
All in all this is an interesting project. Not only it uses innovative technologies, but will also help local businesses and, possibly, will become a tourist attraction in itself. It is popular around the globe to rent bicycles or cars, but in some places these means of transport are not ideal. COMS will protect the environment as well as allow tourists to reach places cars or bicycles can hardly get to.