(Reuters) — Uber plans to launch its first taxi-hailing pilot service in Japan that will connect passengers to other taxi providers, as it seeks to expand in the country where the U.S. firm has been blocked from setting up its own fleet of drivers.
In the coming months, Uber plans to provide its ride-hailing app to residents and visitors to Awaji, an island with a population of around 150,000 located near Osaka, to request taxis operated by more than 20 local taxi companies.
The pilot will run through March 2019.
“Currently we are concentrating on partnerships with taxi companies in the country,” Uber Japan spokeswoman Kay Hattori said on Tuesday. “We would like to expand this nationwide.”
Uber has been unable to bring its full ride-hailing services to Japan as local regulations outlaw non-professional drivers from transporting paying customers, but it already operates its UberEats takeaway delivery service in four Japanese cities, including Tokyo and Osaka.
Its mobile app can be used in Tokyo to connect users with car services, while Uber is also conducting two ride-hailing pilot services for elderly people in rural towns in Japan as the country’s aging population makes it an attractive prospect for ride-hailing companies.
Earlier this year, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told investors that Uber must change the way it does business in Japan, adding that it would focus on partnerships with taxi companies.
Amid the global rise of ride-hailing services and other next-generation taxi services, a growing number of companies are jockeying for a share of Japan’s $16 billion taxi industry.
China’s Didi Chuxing and SoftBank Group Corp have announced they will roll out a venture in Japan to provide ride-hailing services. Toyota and Sony Corp have separately partnered with local taxi firms to develop services that use artificial intelligence to predict usage and demand.
(Reporting by Naomi Tajitsu; Editing by Himani Sarkar)