Turtle Taxi: Bye-Bye, Fast Lane

Turtle Taxi: Bye-Bye, Fast Lane

By Laura Secorun Palet


Because this unconventional cab service lets you take your time.

By Laura Secorun Palet

Taxis earn their fares by taking the shortest, fastest route to a destination, right? What if they instead took a leisurely pace? Most passengers would scream at the driver, or slash the tip.

But not in Japan — at least not always. 

Japanese riders in the port city of Yokohama have started paying the new Turtle Taxi service extra, just to slow down. It turns out that many people like the slow lane. It’s safer, more relaxing and greener. 

It is perfect for those times when I don’t want to have my sleeping child woken up.

Turtle cabs — marked with a green turtle logo — have a backseat button that customers can push to tell the driver to slow down. The taxi operator, in turtle mode, switches off the engine at red lights, goes easy on the accelerator and keeps out of the fast lane.

The Japanese taxi company Sanwa Koutsu decided to launch this unconventional service in December 2013 after receiving complaints from passengers who were bothered by reckless driving. The company now has about 16 of the Turtle cabs, operating mostly in Yokohama.

So far, they cater mostly to older people or pregnant women, who say they enjoy the smooth ride. It’s also been popular with parents of young children who have fun pressing the shiny button with a picture of a turtle and the word Yukkuri — “slow” in Japanese — written on it. 

Mothers with sleeping babies are also big fans. “The starts and stops are very smooth because there is no jarring movement,” says the mother of a 1-year-old who has repeatedly used the service. “It is perfect for those times when I don’t want to have my sleeping child woken up.” 


In the Slow Lane by Choice

The cab crawlers might also find favor with others, like workaholics needing a breather between meetings, women wanting to put on makeup before a party or tourists eager to enjoy the view at their own pace.

Slow rides are also friendlier to the environment. Slower speed means less carbon emissions and nasty fumes. In under a year, the fleet has accumulated about 4,660 so-called “eco miles” and is trying to reach a target of 31,000.

The fare rate of a slow taxi is the same as a conventional one, but since the drives take longer, they run up more more in time charges.

The company saves because switching to slower speeds reduces fuel costs by an estimated $300 per vehicle each year.

The idea is quickly gaining traction. In 2013, only 10 of the company’s 500 taxis were designated as Turtle cabs, but by next year, the company plans to offer this slower service option among its entire fleet. From there, it’s on to other cities, including Tokyo, Kanagawa and Saitama.

The taxis might go slowly, but the business has plainly entered the fast lane.