Photo/Illutration A taxi based on Nissan Motor Co.’s Ariya model is shown on Dec. 12 in Tokyo’s Minato Ward. (Junichi Kamiyama)

Taxi operators are replacing their gas-powered vehicles with electric models to prepare for the government’s shift toward decarbonization and possible tighter environmental regulations.

Mobility Technologies Co., the Tokyo-based operator of taxi-booking app Go, started a project in December to encourage its 100 partner companies to incorporate 2,500 electric vehicles (EVs) and 2,900 chargers by 2031.

Under the framework, Mobility Technologies will buy EVs from automakers, with two-thirds of the purchase costs covered by the government’s Green Innovation Fund subsidy program.

Toyota Motor Corp.’s bZ4X as well as Nissan Motor Co.’s Ariya and Leaf are expected to be bought and leased to cab companies, and more models will later be added to the project.

EVs accounted for just 0.1 percent of 210,000 taxis across Japan as of 2021, according to statistics. Cabs run an estimated seven times longer than personal vehicles per day.

Taking advantage of other state subsidy systems, Mobility Technologies plans to raise the electric taxi number to 42,000, or 20 percent, by fiscal 2030.

The number of chargers is expected to hit 24,000 under the plan.

Mobility Technologies plans to analyze vehicle traffic data to install chargers at places that are readily accessible to taxi drivers so that recharging will create no obstacles to their operations.

“We will help replace cabs with EVs while easing taxi companies’ burden, such as establishing a mechanism for cheaper electricity to be provided,” said Hiroshi Nakajima, president of Mobility Technologies.

Cab operators have struggled financially from the pandemic-related decline in overseas tourist numbers and higher gas prices. They cannot secure EVs on their own, so many closed down when their cabs needed to be replaced.

Atsunori Sakamoto, president of Nihonjo Taxi Co. in Osaka, said per-cab ridership improved after the company registered on the app, partially offsetting a decline in sales stemming from a labor shortage.

He said his company will bring electric models into service.

“We can replace our vehicles with new ones with less spending,” Sakamoto said. “Nothing would be more welcome than this.”

In August last year, leading cab provider MK Co. in Kyoto adopted the Ioniq 5 EV of South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Co.

The vehicle, available in Japan, has a maximum driving distance of 618 kilometers and comfortable back seats, making it suitable for sightseers on long charter rides, MK said.

MK said one advantage of electric models is that they prevent drivers from being distracted by annoying engine sounds.

In addition, total expenses for EVs will be around the same as those for gasoline cars over their five-year operational period, the company said.

The percentage of EVs at MK is projected to reach 12 percent by the end of fiscal 2022. The company plans to replace all its cabs with electric models or fuel-cell vehicles by 2030.

“We will be gearing up for an era when EVs will be preferred among hotel guests and students on school trips,” said a representative of MK’s business strategy department.

Seiji Sugiura, a senior analyst at Tokai Tokyo Research Institute Co., predicted more electric taxis will be put into service.

“There is a likelihood that strengthened regulations will be imposed, such as making it mandatory for cab operators to own a certain number of EVs,” he said.