A convenient way to get around townCreating communities where everyone can leave their homes, and go out and enjoy activities through a new shared bus service system
Due to the decline of existing public transport services, limited and difficult access for those with disabilities, and the government’s policy of encouraging elderly drivers to return their driver’s licenses, there is a growing number of people who are transport disadvantaged. The number of these individulas, usually elderly, and often known as “transport refugees” has been increasing, which has become a problem.
This is a problem not only for less populated rural areas, but also for some parts of urban areas. It is argued that to solve this problem, it is necessary to create a new transportation system.
To address these growing concerns, Aisin has launched a new business: “Choisoko” an on-demand (*) shared bus service aimed at solving the inconvenience of transportation in the region and encouraging elderly people to lead more social and active lives.
In addition to automotive parts, Aisin has supplied a wide range of products related to movement, mobility and transportation, including vehicle navigation systems.
So, what led Aisin to undertake the challenge of developing an on-demand shared bus service? We interviewed Hiromi Kato, General Manager of the Business Promotion Department, to learn more.
* A transport system that operates by responding to user reservations without fixed routes
- 1. Realizing Aisin-led CASE with Choisoko
- 2. Creating a business model that enables operators to continue their services while livening up the entire community
- 3. Offering not only transport service but also various added-value services. More efficient and more convenient
- 4. The challenge of exploration into new fields. Solving issues and problems one by one
- 5. Aiming to realize the “Japanese version of MaaS.” Expanding this system to the world in the future
General Manager, Business Promotion Department Hiromi Kato
/Realizing Aisin-led CASE with Choisoko
Kato, who has participated in this project from the beginning, looks back.
“When the concept of CASE (Connected, Automated driving, Shared & services, Electrification) began to emerge, Aisin was already capable of addressing automated driving and electrification on a component or part basis. But we wished to explore CASE independently through our own initiative. This idea led to the planning and development of the on-demand transport system “Choisoko,” which merges connected and shared mobility service and leverages our well cultivated and market-best navigation technologies.”
Choisoko was launched on a trial basis in Toyoake City, Aichi Prefecture in 2018 as an on-demand shared bus service. When receiving trip requests from registered users via phone or internet, the optimal ride-sharing route is calculated based on pick up, transport and delivery to their destinations. Choisoko began full-scale operation in 2019 and now operates in more than 20 municipalities (*) across Japan with plans for expansion in more regions.
* As of August 2021
Most of the existing on-demand transport services are struggling to survive.
Creating a transport service system that can continue and expand
On-demand transport is a blend between a bus and taxi as it can flexibly change routes and pickup times according to users’ needs. An on-demand transport service is in high demand especially in areas with aging populations and infrastructure. Many municipalities have already introduced this service.
Aisin conducted market research and found that many demonstrations, experiments and services introduced by municipalities were cancelled within a year due to a limited number of users.
Aisin could not justify operating a service if it is not profitable and sustainable.
So, Aisin chose “continuity” and “expansion” as keywords for the development of Choisoko. Also from the perspective of the SDGs, we focused on creating a sustainable community where people can continue to live comfortably.
/Creating a business model that enables operators to continue their services while livening up the entire community
It was considered difficult to continue operating on-demand transport services. However, Choisoko has now grown to more than 20 locations nationwide. What strategies were taken to make this possible?
One of the characteristics of Choisoko is that service operators are private companies.
Most conventional on-demand transport services have been operated by municipalities, which generally provide service even to areas where demand is extremely low, especially from the perspective of ensuring fairness. And, they've done so, while relying on passenger fare revenue alone, which is very limited.
To address these factors and create a sustainable business model that enables operators to continue their services, the Choisoko project has decided to introduce an area sponsor system where facilities and stores visited by users become “area sponsors.” This allows operators to have at least two revenue sources—passenger fares and sponsorship fees—and utilize those resources to operate and sustain services.
Also, instead of imposing its own values on users, the Choisoko project values the voice of users. The project team thoroughly listens to the needs of elderly people who use the service and analyzes the data from demonstration experiments. Based on the results, the team plans various events that are of interest to elderly people, including health and diet-related events. Thus, Choisoko not only provides transportation services, but also creates opportunities for the elderly to go out and be active, which leads to improved health.
“Choisoko provides a means of transportation for people to meet their minimum necessary needs, such as going to the hospital and shopping, but also creates a mechanism to encourage elderly people to enjoy going out and thereby liven up the entire community.”
/Offering not only transport service but also various added-value services. More efficient and more convenient
“Good morning! This is the Choisoko Center.” It is 8:30 in the morning. All the telephones at the Choisoko Operator Center at the Aisin Head Office start ringing, and operators’ cheerful voices are heard throughout the room.
Here you can see how much users rely on the Choisoko service.
When an operator receives a trip request from a registered user, the optimal route is determined using the know-how cultivated in vehicle navigation systems. Then the operator then gives this information to the user.
Furthermore, the use of past big data makes it possible to estimate an accurate arrival time.
Aisin’s vision goes beyond simply providing a means of transportation for people. It is also to create new added-value services by utilizing various systems of Choisoko, from reservation to operation.
One example of such a service is the road maintenance and management support service “Michi-log.” Using data collected from a sensor that detects vibrations and a camera that continually captures road surface images, Choisoko vehicles are able to detect and report cracks and holes in roads, and that data is delivered to the proper authorities to ensure safety for all.
This service utilizes vehicle navigation technology that accurately indicates the location of the vehicle on a map. In addition to collecting data on flooded or snow-covered roads, it is possible to create a map showing the locations of damaged roads during a disaster. A distinct advantage of Choisoko is being able to simultaneously and continually collect data while also completing transport.
In addition, a new system has been developed and implemented that collects and delivers local agricultural products and lunch boxes during periods when a Choisoko vehicle is not in use for human transportation.
Various new services are also beginning to be considered, including a “watch over” service in which operators can check on the wellbeing of elderly people.
Looking forward, new services will be added that address regional disparities and social issues, including a child-rearing support system that combines transport services and community-based learning as well as other activities.
/The challenge of exploration into new fields. Solving issues and problems one by one
This project has faced its share of problems and challenges.
The first major challenge was how to grasp the needs of the community and create services to meet them.
The Choisoko development project began by thoroughly listening to the local community. The members interviewed as many local residents and companies as possible to identify their needs.
As a result, a service that is well received by local residents and companies has been successfully developed.
Another challenge was coexistence with local taxi companies and bus companies and their existing routes.
This problem was solved by outsourcing Choisoko vehicle operations and operation-related tasks to those companies.
Currently, the project team is vigorously working to seek “alliance partners” not only from the same industry but also from other industries to cooperate with each other in order to further expand Choisoko and other services across the country.
“In order to continue this system, it is important to constantly provide new ideas and services,” says Kato.
“If Choisoko gains a growing reputation and has taken root in various parts of the country, other competitive services will surely come out. Therefore, it is important to always try new things.”
/Aiming to realize the “Japanese version of MaaS.” Expanding this system to the world in the future
Currently, many initiatives on MaaS (Mobility as a Service) are progressing around the world. Looking one step ahead, Aisin’s Choisoko aims to provide services that fit Japan’s aging society.
“The M of MaaS stands for 'mobility' and Aisin extends that meaning to include the movement of users themselves. Instead of merely matching users who want to mobility through transportation, Aisin aims to connect movement to 'services' that users can enjoy after arriving at their destinations. By considering mobility and enjoyment in an integrated manner, we think we will be able to create communities that provide a high level of satisfaction to residents, regardless of age,” says Kato.
"Another characteristic of Choisoko is that Aisin does not execute the Choisoko service as its own product, but unitizes the service. We are in charge of developing systems for transporting people, but services are handled by private companies and municipalities that are area sponsors. We are aiming to establish mutually beneficial relationships for all involved parties.
In the future, we will expand the unitized Choisoko system nationwide as a total service and create an environment where people can live comfortably with peace of mind throughout their lives no matter where they live in Japan. I’m dreaming of expanding this system to the world in the future, bringing more fulfillment and joy to the concept of mobility.”
Advantages of Choisoko
- Rideshare service “Choisoko”
- This innovative mobility support service aims to maintain and improve health and wellness among the elderly and was first demonstrated and tested in July of 2018 through a collaboration with Toyoake City, Aichi Prefecture. Choisoko began full scale operations in April of 2019, and AISIN plans to expand into new regions via cooperation with Toyota dealerships to assist with operations outside the prefecture.