Japan's transportation ministry said Friday it will approve taxi-sharing services nationwide from next week, allowing strangers to ride the same vehicle in a bid to offer users greater convenience while boosting the productivity of operators.

Through taxi-sharing, which will require users to make reservations through a smartphone app, users pay less than they would for an individual taxi. At the same time, operators are better able to meet demand even in areas facing a shortage of drivers.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism expects taxi companies to take several months to prepare their reservation systems for launching the taxi-sharing service.

Taxis wait at a terminal in front of JR Nagoya Station in central Japan on April 9, 2020. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

To reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission among passengers, the ministry said it will look at having operators implement antivirus measures, including limiting the number of passengers per car and requiring drivers and passengers to wear masks.

As users enter their pickup location, destination and the time they wish to a ride on an operator's smartphone app, they can be paired with other users going in the same direction. The fare is divided among the passengers depending on the distance they travel.

Taxi companies are allowed to provide the service on a reservation basis only. Currently, taxi drivers are banned from picking up passengers not traveling together.

To address safety concerns, passengers must agree beforehand to several points, including the type of vehicle and route it will take and the gender of other passengers.