Free Cycle Shuttle Helps Aging Japanese Pensioners
Japan has a serious population problem: fewer families are having children and the percentage of retirees is climbing steadily. One example is the residential housing complex known as Murayama Danchi, which is run by the Tokyo metropolitan government in Musashimurayama, a district in western Tokyo. The complex of 5,260 units was built, according to Yomiuri Shimbun, in 1966 in response to a " dire housing shortage during the nation's rapid economic growth in the late 1950s to the early 1970s."
Due to Japan's low birth rate today, the population is aging. In the case of Murayama Danchi, 48% of the residents are 65 or older. For them, it's a 20 minute walk to the nearest shopping district. To provide the complex's elderly with access to shops, the local community invested the equivalent of $15,000USD (1.8 million Yen) on two bicycle-based shuttles. Pedaled by either shop owners or volunteers, the three-wheeled vehicles pick up and return residents to their homes. The service is free and to date some 240 people have signed up for and use the service, which can be summoned by a telephone call.
A close examine of the larger of the two shuttles suggests that it, in fact, uses electric-assist with the battery box below the two passenger seats. The motor appears to be integrated into the pedal crank. The shuttle featured in the photo above, courtesy of Ryuzo Suzuki of The Yomiuri Shimbun, also can carry a passenger's shopping cart behind the driver.
A similar service based on electric golf cart-type shuttles was trialed for several years in France in the late 1990s and funded by one of the country's leading grocery chains.
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