On March 7, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attended a forum on the theme of "investment in the future," where he remarked, "From the perspective of users, it will be necessary to reconsider the present system to make utilization easier for customers."
Abe was speaking in reference to guidelines for revising the Road Transportation Act, in particular as it relates to use of transporting paying customers in privately owned vehicles.
Currently in Japan, notes Nikkan Gendai (March 12), the use of privately owned vehicles to carry paying passengers -- called shirotaku in reference to their white license plates, as opposed to green commercial vehicle plates -- is prohibited, except in areas lacking other forms of public transport.
Up to now, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism has opposed the adoption of ride sharing, wary of the ambiguities with regard to the operation of such services and concerned over how such vehicles would be maintained. It has also pointed to problems associated with the system that developed following adoption in other countries, including Germany, France, the UK and South Korea.
Abe, however, follows the so-called seisho economic philosophy espoused by Toyo University Professor Heizo Takenaka, which is tolerant toward the mixing of business and political ties, and the prime minister's comments at the March 7 meeting were believed to indicate his support for legalization of privately owned vehicles as common carrier.
While undergoing questioning in the Diet in 2016 regarding the proposed introduction of special economic zones, however, the aforementioned Takenaka had conceded that the current conditions in Japan's taxi and ryokan industries were "tranquil" and that "drastic change was not needed."
Another heavy hitter who supports ride sharing is Hiroshi Mikitani, chairman and CEO of Rakuten Inc, who went on record as favoring its introduction in Japan from November 2015. Mikitani followed up in May 2018 with more remarks in support of the system. Rakuten owns 13.1% of the shares in Lyft, a competitor of Uber, which on March 1 applied for an initial public offering in the U.S. securities exchange.
Nikkan Gendai senses that Abe's support for the deregulation that would permit ride sharing smacks of cronyism similar to the 2017 scandal that erupted over questionable real estate purchases by the Kake Gakuen School of Veterinary Medicine in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture.
Most likely to be confronted with problems will be the taxi industry. According to industry statistics, compared with an average annual income of over 4 million yen in 1993, driver income had declined to 2.98 million in 2013. The widespread adoption of the Uber model, it is feared would further cut into drive incomes.
Another concern is the increased risk of crimes by drivers. According to data made public by Uber itself, 170 customers worldwide reported having been raped by drivers between December 2012 and August 2015. A similar problem by ride sharing drivers has surfaced in China.
It's no joke, the writer concludes, that if the decision is made to proceed with deregulation, there's more at stake than the fiscal well being of the taxi industry. Unless the cozy style of "politics by the friend of a friend, in support of another friend" is abolished, the livelihood of average citizens will suffer.© Japan Today