Sizing up the Future of "i-ROAD Sharing" from the Angle of "Office Sharing"

Test Drive Pilots

"co-lab" is an enterprise devoted to development of shared office space for creative urban professionals.
So far the company has established six locations around Tokyo – including the trendy Daikanyama quarter.
Last autumn the "Share-Office i-ROAD Sharing" project was held at the co-lab Daikanyama office,
with one i-ROAD unit temporarily kept on-site for use by the tenants renting space there.
For this installment we talked to three participants to find out how the experiment changed them and their mobility,
and what types of new driving styles they envision from here on.
"co-lab" is an enterprise devoted to development of shared office space for creative urban professionals. So far the company has established six locations around Tokyo – including the trendy Daikanyama quarter. Last autumn the "Share-Office i-ROAD Sharing" project was held at the co-lab Daikanyama office, with one i-ROAD unit temporarily kept on-site for use by the tenants renting space there. For this installment we talked to three participants to find out how the experiment changed them and their mobility, and what types of new driving styles they envision from here on.

Booking the i-ROAD much like conference rooms or equipment

Booking the i-ROAD much like conference rooms or equipment

On the day of our interview, showing up for work at the co-lab Daikanyama Office were Mr. Tanaka, Ms. Sato and Ms. Sasao. Mr. Tanaka and Ms. Sato are both co-lab management staffers. Mr. Tanaka, while functioning as the director of co-lab, also works diligently in the capacity of a "Creative Facilitator," engaged in devising new concepts to maximize the potential of co-lab as a collective business outlet. Ms. Sato has assumed the title of "Chief Community Manager," acting as a key advisor for the tenant creators. Ms. Sasao handles public relations for "Think the Earth and SPACEPORT Inc." – a general incorporated association renting office space at the co-lab Daikanyama site. On this occasion, we brought these three gentlemen together to swap impressions and suggestions on the "Share-Office i-ROAD Sharing" project.

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―― Mr. Tanaka has collaborated in the supply of "Small Space Parking" and other phases of the OPEN ROAD PROJECT to date. For all of you, what are your takes on this latest "Share-Office i-ROAD Sharing" concept?

Tanaka: My initial thought was that the "sharing" component of the combination of office and car sharing has a nice ring to it. Once I heard a profile of the actual project, I wasted no time in signing up. With the office tenants at co-lab obviously open to the concept of sharing as something they practice on an everyday basis at the office level, I figured this would be a great match.

Sato: Numerous companies have been motivated by the sharing of office space at co-lab to get involved in more eco-friendly daily practices. They quickly recognized the value of participating in this project, with a large number voicing the desire to become part of it from the start. From that group, about 20 individuals joined in the undertaking.

Sasao: At our association, Director Ueda was fascinated by the i-ROAD from early on, always telling us how he wanted to pilot one of those ultra-compact cars around. So he was obviously pleased to get the chance to participate in the project.

―― How was the actual "i-ROAD sharing" arranged within co-lab? Did you encounter any particular snags in working that out?

Tanaka: We relied on Google Calendar to coordinate the effort. With that Google function normally used to book conference rooms, equipment and other work supports at co-lab, from the very get-go we encountered no particularly serious issues.

Sasao: One consideration is the time required to charge the i-ROAD. When driving around in the unit, it’s important to bring it back with sufficient time to recharge the battery before the next booking.

Sato: One drawback was the limited time that the car was made available to us, which served to further fuel interest and bookings. Things would most likely have gone smoother if everyone was able to reserve the i-ROAD when they really needed and wanted to drive it.

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Locations handy to reach by car often demand roundabout access by train

Locations handy to reach by car often demand roundabout access by train

―― We notice a veritable fleet of bicycles parked in front of this co-lab location. Does this mean that tenants rely on bikes for much of their everyday mobility?

Sasao: Although our office is convenient to both Shibuya and Daikanyama stations, since we’re located a bit far from either one on foot many tenants ride bicycles for commuting. Rainy days obviously throw a damper on that option, sparking numerous comments about how nice it was to have the i-ROAD available on such occasions.

Tanaka: Living in Tokyo, there are plenty of spots that while being quite close by car demand roundabout trips to reach by train. When needing to make trips between the six co-lab offices in Tokyo (Daikanyama, Sendagaya, Futako-Tamagawa, etc.), the i-ROAD was definitely the most convenient way.

―― In what other ways did staffers put the i-ROAD to use?

Sato: I remember one time when Ms. Sasao went out to lunch in the i-ROAD!

Sasao: Yes, there was a restaurant that I’d wanted to try out but it was a bit of a stretch to walk there. After some thought, I decided to go there by i-ROAD. Since I’m not a normal everyday driver, it was a bit nerve-wracking at first. But once I got used to the car it was a snap, with the compact body making it really fun to breeze around. Strangers would ask me the name of the car, and in no time at all I started feeling pretty cool about the whole thing.

Tanaka: That’s really true. When you motor around in the i-ROAD it seems like everyone is looking and smiling at you. You can also drive through residential neighborhoods for the first time, and no one gives you strange or suspicious looks. Maybe that’s because it’s instantly clear who’s driving the car from the outside. The unique sense of closeness, unavailable with most any other car, makes the i-ROAD a real joy to cruise around in.

Sato: Another big advantage is the charming body design. When you see an i-ROAD in town, there’s an irresistible urge to wave at the driver!

The i-ROAD as shareable private space

The i-ROAD as shareable private space

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―― Do you see car sharing and other so-called "sharing services" expanding in both scale and diversity over the years to come?

Sasao: I actually personally live in a share-house situation, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be nice to have an i-ROAD available for the tenants there and other such venues. I predict a steady increase in the ranks of people like me, who feel fine about sharing residences and other space, with that leading to expanded car-sharing practices as well.

Tanaka: The i-ROAD particularly lends itself to sharing. The car is easy for most anyone to drive, with little or no threat of it flipping over. Yet, while I believe that the concept of sharing will continue to expand from here on, I also don’t foresee an end to the idea of actually owning things. With cars, for example, I can’t imagine that many people won’t continue to take joy in cherishing them as trusty motoring companions. In that sense, I think we may see clear lines develop between the qualities of vehicles that are owned versus those that are shared.

Sasao: Those experiencing the true fun and convenience of driving thanks to sharing opportunities may very well develop urges to own cars in tune with the particular changes in their lifestyles – getting married, having kids and so forth.

―― Finally, please relate your hopes for the role of the i-ROAD from here on.

Sato: With so many cases of urban parking space shortages, it would be great to see an expanded presence for the i-ROAD as a means of making more effective use of the limited area in Tokyo.

Tanaka: I’d like to see greater steps to make the i-ROAD more high tech. A truly mind-blowing means of mobility defying definition as either a motorcycle or a car. Even more ideal would be having the i-ROAD transformed into the automatic driving mode by the time it hits the market.

Sato: Another welcome touch could be sharing arrangements while the units are parked. With so few benches around our cities, the i-ROAD could supply an alternative source of such private space. You could simply ease back and relax inside the car, or take it out for a spin if desired. All in all, it would be nice to have such public means of personal transportation available for most anyone to use.

The OPEN ROAD PROJECT is an initiative aimed at probing the various possibilities in big cities from the keynote concept of "Instilling greater freedom in urban mobility." In this installment we talked with three professionals who work in share-office environments, with the exchanges rich in insights unique to city dwellers. As reflected in the impressions voiced, there are clearly means of mobility best suited to urban settings. This sets the stage for escalating demands for services easing the loads of those who live and work in cities from here on. Besides the business scene, it also seems reasonable to expect i-ROAD sharing services to be handy means of supporting tourism. "Contributing to greater collective happiness through sharing." The i-ROAD appears poised to excel as a functioning symbol of this emerging vision and trend.

TEXT BY Ryoko Sugimoto (contributor)
PHOTOGRAPHS BY Yuta Nishida

ISSUED : 30 January 2017