Ride-Sharing Services: Efforts Needed to Develop System Suitable for Japan

A ban on ride-sharing services, in which people use their personal cars to offer paid rides, will be partially lifted in April. Such services should be checked carefully to see if they can play a complementary role to taxis while ensuring safety.

The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry has announced that ride-sharing services will be allowed from April in some areas of Tokyo and the prefectures of Kanagawa, Aichi and Kyoto for limited days and times. The ministry intends to later add Osaka and Fukuoka prefectures and Sapporo to the list of such areas.

Late last year, the government decided to allow the addition of ride-sharing services to taxi company’s operations, at certain times in specific areas where there is a shortage of taxis. The areas where ride-sharing services are needed have been identified based on data from taxi-hailing apps.

In the passenger transportation business, the safety of passengers is the most important aspect. If a business is operated freely by drivers who do not have the Class 2 driver’s license that is required for taxi drivers, safety cannot be ensured, and where responsibility lies may become ambiguous.

It appears to be appropriate to launch ride-sharing services in a limited manner under the operation of taxi companies.

Ride-sharing services have been widely used in countries and regions such as the United States, China and Southeast Asia. As Japan has seen a shortage of taxis due to a decrease in the number of drivers, ride-sharing services have raised hopes as a means to solve this problem.

However, there have been many incidents of sexual assault, robbery and other crimes involving ride-sharing services in other countries. In some reported cases, drivers have been victimized.

It is important to make the services suitable for Japan by assessing the advantages and disadvantages through a trial operation, and not introduce them simply because ride sharing is widely available overseas.

Under the new system, taxi companies will be responsible for managing the work of ride-sharing drivers and supervising their driving skills, among other matters. The companies will also be required to have voluntary insurance coverage of at least ¥80 million for bodily injury liability and ¥2 million or more for property damage in case of an accident.

Drivers will likely be required to sign an employment contract with a taxi company on the condition that they have no accidents in the past two years.

People are expected to work as ride-sharing drivers as a side job. It is hoped that the government will thoroughly oversee taxi companies to ensure the safety of users of the services.

The government plans to coordinate ideas in June about the full lifting of the ban in ways like those seen overseas. It must discuss the matter carefully and avoid taking hasty action.

As a plunge in demand for taxis forced more drivers to quit their job amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of taxi drivers reportedly fell by about 20% as of late March 2023 from 2019 levels.

It will also be essential for taxi companies to make efforts to secure drivers by raising wages and creating a comfortable work environment.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 24, 2024)