Winter Special Circumstances Cause Severe Taxi Shortage in Sapporo, Even During Normal Hours | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Winter Special Circumstances Cause Severe Taxi Shortage in Sapporo, Even During Normal Hours

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In late January, upon arriving at New Chitose Airport and heading to the taxi stand, not a single taxi was to be found. I waited quite a while, thinking it might be due to significant flight delays, but there was no sign of any taxis coming. Looking around, I noticed other foreign tourists in a similarly idle state.

Cab Stand at New Chitose Airport

Having given up on taxis, I boarded the express train bound for Sapporo. However, shortly after departure, heavy snow caused the train to stop, resulting in a delay of over an hour. Hoping to call a taxi upon getting off the train, I searched for a taxi company and made a call, only to be told that they were all fully booked. Seeing my flustered state, a man who claimed to be a Sapporo resident spoke to me reassuringly.

“In Hokkaido winters, this is normal. You probably won’t be able to catch a taxi today.”

Reflecting on the man’s words, the train eventually arrived at Sapporo Station. Upon leaving the station, I saw over 100 people waiting in line for taxis. The area around Susukino, the largest entertainment district, was also crowded with people waiting for taxis.

Long cab lines in front of Sapporo Station

Hokkaido in winter is said to be prone to a chronic shortage of cabs. It has been a long time since there was a nationwide shortage of cabs, but I cannot remember a place I have visited in recent years where it was as difficult to catch a cab as this. Sapporo is said to have a relatively moderate cab shortage among other areas in Hokkaido, but at least in the heavy snowfall Sapporo was clearly in short supply.


According to data from the Hokkaido Hire Association, five years ago there were 9,000 drivers in Sapporo and the three surrounding city areas, but last year the number had dropped to about 6,600. The current number of cab drivers in Hokkaido as a whole is approximately 13,200. Compared to the pre-Corona period, the number had dropped by about 25%. Combined with the demand from inbound travelers, which began to recover rapidly last year, the cab shortage is becoming more serious.

A spokesperson for Mutoshin Holdings Corporation, which has 10 branches in the province, said.

“This year, the snow’s impact has been relatively minimal. Two years ago, there were periods when roads were so icy that we couldn’t operate properly. However, during winter, there are frequent lane restrictions, so getting stuck in traffic jams is not uncommon. Still, in Hokkaido, taxi revenue tends to be higher in winter compared to summer.”

Why has the crew shortage become so severe?

“The impact of the improvement standards notice, which sets limits on overtime work starting in April, may be a factor. There’s been an increase in people transitioning from the taxi industry to other careers. In Hokkaido, the taxi business is heavily influenced by weather conditions, and the aging of drivers is also a serious issue. The average age is around 63 years old, which is over four years higher than the national average.”

A veteran cab driver, a 30-year veteran, who picked me up near Susukino at night confided to me,

“In Sapporo, many people take short rides of less than 1300 yen. There are various reasons for this, such as frequent train delays and buses being slow to arrive, but the most common reason I feel is ‘not wanting to walk in the cold, not wanting to walk in the snow.’ On the driver’s side, while in mainland Japan, long-distance trips are welcomed, in Hokkaido, it’s more appreciated to pick up many short-distance passengers because it takes time to return to the city center. Driving on snowy roads at night is dangerous, so there has been an increase in drivers preferring morning or day shifts. The busiest time is usually snowy nights.”

It is extremely difficult to get a cab in Susukino, one of the most popular entertainment areas in Japan.

A short distance away from the center of the city, I went to Maruyama Park and spotted several empty cabs. The driver, a veteran with 45 years of experience, began to speak in a smooth tone.

“Fetching passengers via hailed taxis like yourself is considered lucky, as pickup and app-based dispatch are the mainstream. Sales are quite good, with a 20-30% increase compared to usual years, even with just day shifts. On average, I earn around 40,000 yen. While local residents may be inconvenienced by the need for short-distance travel, we drivers are busier than ever and happily raising cries of joy.”

In Niseko, where taxi shortages are said to be more severe than in Sapporo, a verification experiment of the “Niseko Model” has started since the end of last year, dispatching drivers from Tokyo and Sapporo to coincide with the peak season. The initial results are promising, with over 6,000 users in just one month. A representative from the Tokyo Taxi Association revealed to the author during an interview that there is a possibility of the Niseko Model spreading nationwide in the future. Dispatching drivers from outside the prefecture may become a solution that spreads as a solution for regions facing severe shortages.

Surprisingly, there are few opportunities to send foreigners on board.

Still, there’s nothing you can do about the snow.

“Even in hot weather, taxis keep running, but when it’s too cold, they stop moving.”

Taxi drivers in Hokkaido, who face natural disasters and daily challenges, spoke about it as if it were a matter of course. It seems that it will still take some time to solve Hokkaido’s transportation infrastructure problems.

  • Interview and text by Shimei Kurita

    Born in 1987. He covers a wide range of topics, including sports, economics, incidents, and overseas affairs. He is the author of "Surviving the COVID-19 crisis: Taxi Industry Survival. Aim for Koshien! The Insatiable Challenge of a Preparatory School Baseball Club" and many other composition books.

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