Ride-Sharing: Govt Must Take Steps to Ensure Safety of Users

The government has begun discussions on lifting the ban on ride-sharing services, in which individuals use their own cars to transport people for a fee. Top priority must be given to ensuring the safety of users, and the introduction of the services must be carefully discussed.

In his policy speech at the current Diet session, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stated that his government would “address the issue of ride-sharing services” and that it would consider introducing the system. A working group of the Council for Promotion of Regulatory Reform will compile a report on the issue.

Ride-sharing is becoming popular in the United States, China, Southeast Asia and elsewhere. Users make reservations and payments via smartphone apps.

Currently in Japan, the act of offering rides to passengers for a fee without acquiring a class 2 standard motor vehicle license — which is required for taxi drivers — is called “shirotaku” (unlicensed taxi). In principle, it is prohibited under the Road Transport Vehicle Law.

The debate in Japan began when former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga proposed the introduction of ride-sharing services, citing a shortage of taxis. It is reported that in urban areas late at night and in tourist spots, among other locations, people can be seen forming long lines more often at taxi stands.

It is important to eliminate inconvenience for users. Nevertheless, one cannot help but question the prime minister’s stance in expressing his intention to consider the introduction of ride-sharing services, which have faced deep-rooted opposition, before even going through the discussion process.

The biggest issue is whether the safety and security of passengers can be ensured. Taxi companies are required to maintain their vehicles and ensure their drivers are not drunk, but how will such things be dealt with under the ride-sharing system? Who will be held responsible in the event of an accident?

In the United States and other countries, there is no end to criminal incidents related to ride-sharing services, such as sexual assaults and robberies. Like Japan, South Korea and other countries have banned the practice, and many other countries have begun to tighten regulations in this regard.

If ride-sharing services are to be implemented in Japan, solutions to these challenges should be presented beforehand.

In depopulated areas where there are no taxi or bus services, an exceptional measure has already been taken that allows ordinary drivers to transport passengers with their vehicles for a fee. A realistic approach would be to make this system easier to use and expand its coverage.

Many taxi drivers left the workforce due to a sharp drop in demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The number of taxi drivers at the end of March this year was about 20% less than in 2019 before the pandemic.

Under the current situation, the supply cannot keep pace with the recovery in demand following the normalization of economic activities and the increase in the number of foreign visitors to Japan. First of all, it is vital to take urgent measures to secure taxi drivers.

To make it easier to obtain a class 2 standard motor vehicle license, the government intends to consider abolishing the test that requires memorizing detailed driving routes, among other steps. With the current widespread use of car navigation systems and apps, old regulations need to be reviewed.

The taxi industry also needs to make every possible effort to make the industry an attractive place to work, such as by raising wages for drivers.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 8, 2023)