Lifting Ban on Paid Ride-Sharing Comes Back in Spotlight

Tatsuya Tanoue / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks at a meeting attended by businesspeople from Japan and India in New Delhi in July.

TOKYO (Jiji Press) — Whether to lift Japan’s ban on paid ride-sharing, or the practice of private drivers transporting paying passengers, is attracting renewed attention after former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga came out in favor of lifting the ban.

Meanwhile, there remains strong opposition to lifting the ban on safety and other grounds within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which is backed by the taxi industry.

The transport ministry is also cautious about lifting the ban, and it is unclear whether discussions on the matter will move forward.

Paid ride-sharing services, including one offered by Uber Technologies Inc., are common abroad. But in Japan, such services are effectively banned by the road transportation law.

In May 2018, the Japan Association of New Economy proposed a new law to exempt ride-sharing services from the road transportation law. In January 2020, the Japan Association of Corporate Executives (Keizai Doyukai) also called for the enactment of such a law.

However, discussions on the matter did not progress under the administrations of Suga and his predecessor, Shinzo Abe.

As the number of foreign visitors to Japan is rebounding rapidly after the country lifted its COVID-19 border restrictions, people are finding it increasingly difficult to get a taxi in urban areas and tourist spots.

The shortage of taxi drivers is also becoming more severe in regional areas struggling with depopulation.

In light of these circumstances, Suga said during a lecture in Nagano on Aug. 19 that it is “necessary” to allow paid ride-sharing. “It is a real problem that there are not enough taxis,” he said.

A middle-ranking LDP lawmaker close to Suga agreed with the former prime minister, saying that it would be okay to allow paid ride-sharing in limited areas, such as the countryside.

Meanwhile, the taxi industry opposes the introduction of such services, apparently fearing that competition for customers could intensify.