TOKYO -- The government here will let people use personal cars to ferry tourists and other passengers for pay in a strategic special zone in western Japan, aiming to gauge the benefits of ride sharing in hopes that it will help sightseers venture outside major metropolitan areas.
The country has allowed ride sharing in some depopulated areas, but only on preset routes, making the services more similar to buses than taxis. Vehicles in such programs also have faced heavy restrictions, such as being unable to take the same roads as public buses.
These restrictions will be eased in a trial set to begin in May in Yabu, a Hyogo Prefecture city designated as a strategic special zone. Ride-sharing vehicles will be free to share the roads with buses as long as they operate in prescribed areas. The trial is expected to get official approval Wednesday.
Three local taxi companies, as well as a tourism organization and the local government, will establish a nonprofit body to manage the service. Drivers will register with the nonprofit, and fares will be collected through the taxi companies' systems. Prices will be kept to about 60-70% of taxi fares. The fleet is expected to consist of 10 to 20 vehicles.
Of the four former towns that now comprise Yabu, the program will cover the two that lack JR West stations. It will help sightseers reach attractions such as traditional Japanese-style homes and the abandoned Akenobe Mine, a government-designated Japan heritage site. Locals including elderly people and pregnant women will also be encouraged to use the service. Yabu seeks to let personal vehicles carry passengers on routes to and from JR train stations as well.
Throughout Japan, unlicensed taxis illegally ferry tourists to and from places such as airports and sightseeing hot spots. Yabu hopes that the involvement of the taxi companies in the trial will help ensure safety.
The number of foreign visitors to Japan reached 23.79 million this year through October, up 18.3% on the year. At this pace, the country looks likely to notch its fifth straight year of record visitor numbers.
While repeat visitors are more inclined to branch out beyond major cities, about 60% of last year's stays were confined to eight prefectures in well-traveled regions that house Tokyo and other metropolitan areas such as Nagoya, Osaka and Kyoto.