SoftBank Group Corp. and China’s Didi Chuxing are teaming up on a taxi-hailing platform for Japan, becoming the latest venture to bet on a market that’s lagged behind the rest of the world.
Called Didi Mobility Japan, the business will start trials this year in Osaka, followed by Tokyo, Kyoto, Fukuoka, and Okinawa, the companies announced on Thursday. Taxi operators will be able to track drivers and rides using heat maps, while passengers will be able to summon rides and rate drivers via an app, which will also offer Chinese-Japanese translation.
Long dominated by taxis, Japan’s 1.7 trillion yen ($15 billion) car-transport industry is starting to show signs of change. Sony Corp. is working on a joint venture with taxi companies called “Everybody’s Taxi.” Japan Taxi, the dispatch app run by the chairman of Nihon Kotsu Co., has also been actively promoting its services. Uber Technologies, Inc. is starting a taxi-hailing pilot program in the remote island of Awaji. With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics just around the corner, taxi operators are looking for ways to make it easier for customers to hail cabs and get to their destinations.
“Technology can be not just disruptive but also collaborative and inclusive,” Didi President Jean Liu said at the briefing. She didn’t specify any taxi partners, although Didi was in talks with taxi operator Daiichi Koutsu Sangyo Co. last year.
Ride-hailing, where private-car owners can use their own vehicle to pick up and deliver passengers, is illegal in Japan. As a result, any ride-hailing services in Japan are essentially taxi and car-dispatch services. Earlier on Thursday, SoftBank Chief Executive Officer Masayoshi Son deplored Japan’s regulations, saying that they stifled innovation.
“In Japan, ride-hailing is prohibited by law. It’s incredible that our national government is denying the future that is inevitable,” Son said at SoftBank World, the company’s annual two-day event for customers and suppliers. “Is there a country that is as stupid as that?” (Bloomberg)