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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — It has four wheels, plush red velvet seats and shuttles passengers anywhere on base.

Chubby Chuck’s is the new base taxi.

“It was something that was needed for this base,” said owner Charlie Murphy.

Before the 374th Support Group approved Murphy’s home enterprise application, Yokota was one of the few bases in Japan lacking an on-base taxi service.

Murphy said seeing families carting luggage between Yokota’s passenger terminal and Kanto Lodge early in the morning, before the base bus made its daily runs, sparked the idea.

“I realized Airlift Avenue was not a safe place for families to be walking with kids,” said the Yokota spouse and former Air Force member.

Since Murphy converted his black, tinted-window Nissan Homey van into a taxi on March 6, weary travelers have been his best customers.

“It’s mostly people from billeting having to go to the terminal at 3 in the morning,” he said.

Murphy also picks up base residents or visitors who have doctor’s appointments, for instance, or need to run errands. He’ll even pick up dry cleaning and drop off one’s Internet or cable bill.

“They pay $5 for the service,” he said, and $5 per stop.

Periodically, he’ll wait at the Fussa gate on Saturday and Sunday mornings for late-night stragglers.

Most days, Murphy starts work at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. People may call him for a ride up until 9 p.m. He prefers appointments because he also runs a car detailing business. On rainy days, he’s on call.

His fares range from $5 to $7, though trips to the base’s east side are $8 to $10. He offers discounts through the “Chubby” punch card.

Murphy would like to operate a second van. If it’s approved, he’ll look for drivers who are dependent spouses.

During his busiest weeks, Murphy hauled 75 to 100 passengers, he said. Business has slowed in the pleasant spring weather, but Murphy expects it will pick up with the onset of the Kanto Plain’s stifling summer.

The Army and Air Force Exchange Service recently announced plans to start a taxi service this summer. AAFES business manager Mike Kulyk told the base newspaper that AAFES would like to contract the service to a local Japanese taxi company. Ten to 15 taxis would take passengers on and off base, charging the same fare — in yen or dollars — as off-base taxis in Japan.

To date, no Japanese company has responded to AAFES’ request for a contract bid, according to a base spokeswoman.

“If they don’t get anything, they’ll re-engage the taxi companies and try to work something out,” said 2nd Lt. Jessica Martin.

In response to several interview requests from Stars and Stripes, Yokota AAFES officials said they could not comment on the status of the taxi service “at this time.”

AAFES has tried a taxi service before at Yokota. Master Sgt. Howard Smith, AAFES Pacific region spokesman, said it was stopped in 1997 because it was losing money and customer usage was low.

Most bases in Japan and South Korea have some sort of service. At Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, Japanese taxis drop residents off at the doorstep.

AAFES contracts a successful taxi service at tiny Misawa Air Base in northern Japan. Kichi Taxi consists of a 13-taxi fleet, which haul passengers on- and off-base. Fares start at 580 yen, or about $4.92; they’re set by the Japanese government and are the same as downtown.

More than 2,000 Americans and Japanese use the base taxi, according to AAFES officials.

In South Korea, AAFES taxis travel freely on and off military installations. Most of the military community comes to South Korea on unaccompanied tours; most troops do not have automobiles.

And in the Army’s northernmost Area 1, home of the 2nd Infantry Division, soldiers on unaccompanied tours — regardless of rank — cannot have personal automobiles with them.

AAFES officials said they contract with local companies to provide 300 taxis across the peninsula.

— Tim Flack, Carlos Bongioanni and Wayne Specht contributed to this story.

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