Japan on Monday launched ride-hailing services in Tokyo, with other areas across the country to follow suit in a bid to address a nationwide shortage of taxi drivers.

The country partially lifted a ban on the services earlier this month, allowing drivers with a standard license to offer taxi services on specified days and hours using their own private vehicle, provided they are under the management of a local tax company.

The Tokyo Hire-Taxi Association, one of the operators involved in the project, held a ceremony to commemorate the launch, demonstrating how drivers use a dedicated smartphone app to receive dispatch requests and to input health-related data concerning their fitness to drive.

Transport minister Tetsuo Saito (front L) and digital minister Taro Kono (front R) attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Tokyo to mark the launch of Japan's first ride-hailing service on April 8, 2024. (Kyodo)

"We will greatly expand the ride-hailing business and establish it throughout Japan to resolve a shortage of transport providers," transport minister Tetsuo Saito said at the ceremony. He went for a test ride using the service.

About 80 drivers were available as of Monday morning, with the services used around 50 times before 9 a.m., according to the association.

Registered vehicles are dispatched with destinations and fares calculated in advance. Only cashless payments can be accepted in principle.

The services are now available in Tokyo's 23 wards and the suburban areas of Musashino and Mitaka from Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to before 11 a.m. and from 12 a.m. to before 4 a.m. on Saturday mornings.

The services will later be expanded, with the transport ministry having also allowed their introduction in other large cities such as Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka.

The government is aiming to start the services later this month in Kyoto, Nagoya and Yokohama.

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