Tokyo taxi firms test drive ride-shar­ing apps

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - WORLD - Girls wear­ing ki­mono look at col­or­ful hang­ing dec­o­ra­tions at a hall in the Ina­tori dis­trict of Hi­gashi­izu, Shizuoka Pre­fec­ture. A fes­ti­val featuring the dec­o­ra­tions, which hang on b from Jan. 20 through March 31. The dec­o­ra­tions are made of pieces of kimo

Trav­el­ers to Tokyo may be sur­prised to find their per­cep­tions of the high-tech me­trop­o­lis to be far from re­al­ity when it comes to the use of ride-hail­ing smart­phone apps such as Uber and Lyft.

But two taxi com­pa­nies are look­ing to bring Tokyo up to speed with its global peers by in­tro­duc­ing sep­a­rate cab-shar­ing apps in a bid to of­fer lower prices and at­tract new cus­tomers de­spite the shrink­ing mar­ket.

Taxis in Ja­pan are known for their clean in­te­ri­ors and qual­ity ser­vice. They are also known for their ex­pen­sive fares — par­tially a re­sult of tough reg­u­la­tions that have pro­tected the in­dus­try and kept out new com­peti­tors like Uber. The San Francisco-based com­pany’s main car-hail­ing ser­vice is banned in Ja­pan, where un­li­censed, pri­vately op­er­ated cars and driv­ers are for­bid­den.

But taxi com­pa­nies have re­mained wary of the po­ten­tial dis­rup­tion ser­vices like Uber could bring to Ja­pan’s mar­ket if the firm were to make a full en­try, and they have been de­vis­ing ways to make their own ser­vices more ac­ces­si­ble.

A seven-week trial launched in Jan­uary by Ni­hon Kotsu Co. and Daiwa Mo­tor Trans­porta­tion Co. could be a chance to of­fer con­sumers a taste of the con­ve­nience and cheaper fares some­times avail­able through ride-shar­ing ser­vices.

While the apps of­fered by the fleet op­er­a­tors func­tion dif­fer­ently, both will al­low cus­tomers with sim­i­lar de­par­ture and desti­na­tion points to share taxis and re­duce fares by an es­ti­mated 30 per­cent.

Ni­hon Kotsu’s app is sim­i­lar to that of Uber, al­low­ing cus­tomers to choose pickup and drop-off lo­ca­tions while the ser­vice looks for pas­sen­gers rid­ing on sim­i­lar routes.

Daiwa’s ser­vice, which has been built within its ex­ist­ing taxi-hail­ing app, des­ig­nates 30 pre­de­ter­mined pickup points. Users can choose their ride sched­ule — in­clud­ing pickup and drop-off points — or choose from a list of rides al­ready posted by other users.

A ride from Tokyo’s Otemachi fi­nan­cial dis­trict to Shibuya, for ex­am­ple, usu­ally costs about $43. Shar­ing a ride, how­ever, can re­duce that price to $26.50, ac­cord­ing to Ni­hon Kotsu.

Both ser­vices re­quire pay­ment by pre-reg­is­tered credit cards, and the apps are only avail­able in Ja­panese for now.

“We want to start with Ja­panese users and po­ten­tially ex­pand the ser­vice to in­clude the grow­ing num­ber of in­bound tourists that are vis­it­ing Ja­pan,” said Tat­suya Ue­hara, an of­fi­cial from the mar­ket­ing di­vi­sion of Ja­pan Taxi, a startup launched by Ni­hon Kotsu that cre­ated the app.

The cur­rent trial, which is over­seen by the land min­istry and will con­tinue un­til March 11, takes place in Tokyo’s 23 wards and the cities of Musashino and Mi­taka in western Tokyo. In to­tal, 300 Ni­hon Kotsu taxis and 649 Daiwa taxis are tak­ing part in the ex­per­i­ment.

Fig­ures from the Ja­pan Fed­er­a­tion of Hire-Taxi As­so­ci­a­tions shows that the num­ber of taxi pas­sen­gers in 2014 was 1.56 bil­lion com­pared to 2.24 bil­lion in 2004, a 30 per­cent de­cline. The num­ber of taxis also fell to 228,325 from 265,480 over the same pe­riod.

Ja­pan at­tracted a record 28.69 mil­lion tourists in 2017, up 19.3 per­cent from the pre­vi­ous year.

We want to start with Ja­panese users and po­ten­tially ex­pand the ser­vice to in­clude the grow­ing num­ber of in­bound tourists.”

Tat­suya Ue­hara Mar­ket­ing di­vi­sion of Ja­pan Taxi

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