|Kyodo News International, Tokyo
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jan. 27, 2006 - TOKYO - Business hotel chain Toyoko Inn Co. on Friday admitted to allegations that two of its hotels in Yokohama removed mandatory parking facilities for the disabled after the hotels had passed inspection.
Toyoko Inn President Norimasa Nishida told a press conference, convened hastily following the Asahi Shimbun's report on the matter, that he knew the move violated the law.
One of the hotels, a 10-story, 133-room hotel in Naka Ward in Yokohama, had parking facilities tailored for the disabled when a private agency inspected it on behalf of the city shortly after it was completed in December.
The hotel removed part of these facilities after the inspection in order to widen the hotel's lobby area, the president said. The hotel opened earlier this month.
As a result, parking spaces for the disabled at the hotel were cut to three, instead of seven for a hotel of that size as required under a city ordinance, hotel officials said.
At the other hotel, located in Yokohama's Kohoku Ward, parking for the disabled was cut to three spaces from four, after the hotel had passed an inspection following the completion of the building in March 2002, the officials said.
Nishida apologized and pledged the hotel chain would rebuild the modified areas of the hotels in question and do all it can to regain public trust.
"I knew the modification would violate a city ordinance, but I approved a proposal by the marketing division to remove the facilities," Nishida said.
Nishida said one or two other hotels run by Toyoko Inn modified similar facilities, adding the hotel chain will check its other hotels. But he did not specify which hotels may have such problems.
Land, Infrastructure and Transport Minister Kazuo Kitagawa told reporters that if the allegations are true, it would be "extremely regrettable." "The modification is out of the question. It goes totally against the land ministry's policy of creating communities based on universal design," he said.
A land ministry official described the removal of the facilities for the disabled as "extremely vicious." The government will check other hotels run by Toyoko Inn, he said.
The two Yokohama hotels were modified by affiliates of Toyoko Inn, but steel reinforcements and other features related to the buildings' quake resistance were not altered with their strength meeting government standards, according to the hotel officials.
Yuji Kaneko, head of the secretariat at the Japan Disabled Drivers' Automobile Federation, said the organization has helped pass laws or ordinances to make public facilities barrier-free for the disabled.
But such laws would be of no use if those in charge of facilities do not observe them, he said.
The federation will urge municipalities to supervise hotel operators and other parties to see if they have violated laws, Kaneko said.
The Yokohama city government inspected the two Yokohama hotels Friday afternoon.
Authorities of other regions also examined Toyoko Inn hotels in their areas Friday and cases of modification after authorization were found in some other facilities.
Four Toyoko Inn hotels in the city of Osaka were found to have used their garage spaces to enhance lobby or storage space, or for other purposes, city officials said.
In a hotel in Izumo, Shimane Prefecture, a room for the disabled was converted to a conference room, municipal officials said.
At a hotel in the city of Saitama, there was no sign of a parking space for the disabled in the space designated for that purpose despite a local ordinance obligating the hotel to put up such a sign.
The modification of mandatory facilities for the disabled without approval violates the building standard law and the special building law for the elderly and disabled, which requires buildings with a total floor space of 2,000 square meters or larger to be free of barriers for such people.
Toyoko Inn, which charges about 4,000 yen to 6,000 yen per night for a single room, has reported brisk business in its no-frills hotel operation and has been increasing the number of hotels it runs at a pace of about 20 a year. The hotel chain now has more than 110 hotels nationwide.
A typical Toyoko Inn hotel is a basic establishment with no restaurants or banquet halls.
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