The Uber taxi hailing app has come to Tokyo as part of the San Francisco-based company’s expansion into Asia. Uber Technologies Inc. is supported by Google’s investment arm and Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, and is looking to draw from the big taxi market that will surely come to Tokyo in the summer of 2020 for the Olympics. But the app makers have chosen to use licensed taxi services in Tokyo rather than private drivers, a big change in its operations.
As with other taxi-hailing apps, Uber’s app can be installed on smartphones or tablets in 17 languages to hail a driver in Japan’s capital. As Tokyo prepares for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, Uber will be looking to draw in users by making it easier for non-Japanese speakers to find drivers. “With the Olympics heading here to Tokyo soon, we think this language ability will be a big benefit,” Allen Penn, head of Uber’s Asia operations, said yesterday in Tokyo. The decision to work with licensed taxi services will actually allow Uber to avoid some of the wrinkles it had in other cities worldwide, Takeji Shiohama, who heads Uber in Japan, also said in the same interview. In other cities, Uber is allowing any driver who signs up for the service to pick up rides, thus making the app service a direct competitor for established taxi services. For this reason, some cities worldwide have chosen to stop Uber and similar apps as there are safety concerns and issues about competition with other taxi companies. “In Japan, Uber is cleared of all legal issues, in every aspect,” Shiohama added.
Uber now currently competes with other smartphone apps put out by Tokyo’s taxi companies, and even global rivals like U.K.-based Hailo Network Ltd. But Uber is continuing its expansion in Asia, recently adding Manila and last month Shanghai to its cities of operation. According to the company’s website, the app is now usable in 81 cities all over the world.