Uber has been in Japan for six years now, and although Uber Eats and other food delivery services have been more visible than ever lately, Tokyoites have never had the option of simply using the ubiquitous Uber app to call for a ride from anywhere in the city. Of course, there are a few Uber Black cars on the road, but they are priced higher than the average taxi.
Now, Uber has pledged to widen its services in Tokyo by partnering with three local taxi companies to allow users to hail cabs and manage their trips through the Uber app. This new feature, known as Uber Taxi, will make it easier for non-Japanese speakers to book a cab in Tokyo. The app will not only offer a range of payment options but also real-time GPS tracking; it even lets users share their arrival time with family and friends. The UberX ride-share feature is still barred, so people can’t sign up to be Uber drivers with their own cars.
The three companies Uber has partnered with are Hinomaru Limousine, Tokyo MK and Ecosystem. They will provide an additional 600 vehicles to Uber users across Tokyo’s busiest districts.
It might be a difficult time to launch the service, seeing as demands for transport have dropped significantly due to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. Nikkei reported that according to the National Federation of Higher Taxi Associations, taxi revenues in Tokyo decreased by more than 60 percent in the first half of May compared to the same period last year. The sharp decrease in domestic and international tourists means any remaining demand for app-based taxi bookings has been strictly limited to urban areas.
Nevertheless, with the possibility of Japan setting up a travel bubble in the coming months, an influx of tourists could see demand for Uber in Tokyo rise again. Judging by the success of Uber Eats, the company is also optimistic that locals are getting used to the convenience and efficiency of cash-free services.