I’m sure most readers here are familiar with Japan’s current demographic dilemma – basically there are a whole bunch of old folks, few young folks, and a declining birth rate. It’s a problem that will only get worse, and the fixes all involve tough choices – something politicians, no matter what country they’re in, shy away from. But Japan does offer excellent social services to these older citizens – one of those being transportation. Here in our small town on the outskirts of Tokyo, the local government offers free shuttle services for those over 65, and the vehicle of choice is the Hino Poncho.
This generation of the Poncho was first introduced in 2006 – it’s a low step bus with the wheels pushed out to the four corners for maximum floor space – in fact, it has more floor space than any other mid-sized coach.
It comes to two lengths, 7 and 6.3 meters. The 7 meter model is available with two doors, both with wheelchair ramps. Its 82 inch width allows it to traverse most of Japan’s narrow backstreets
Interiors can be arranged in a variety of styles, from typical forward-facing seats to fold-up side seats which allow more space for wheel chairs. The engine is currently a Hino 4.7 litre inline diesel 4 cylinder located transversely in the rear, but as with most buses these days a fully electric version is expected soon.
As I mentioned in a previous article, I’m not a fan of a bus being “cute”, but the Poncho seems to pull off both being functional and visually appealing – leave it to the Japanese where “cute” is a national obsession…
The buses run from 8 AM to 8 PM and while operating on a fixed route, will stop directly at your house if convenient. The route goes to where most old folks need to go; city hall, the train station, shopping areas and most importantly, medical facilities. I’m only a couple years away from eligibility…it’s a nice option to have but I’m not looking forward to it…
Fun fact: In Japan, autumn colors (orange/yellow) are closely associated with senior citizens – in fact, drivers 70 and older are highly encouraged to have the kōrei untensha hyōshiki or elderly drivers mark, displayed on their vehicles.