Japan on Monday began allowing ride-hailing services to operate in four areas including Tokyo and Kyoto, with plans to expand to other regions as early as May in a bid to address a nationwide shortage of taxi drivers.

The partial lifting of a ban on ride-hailing services permits 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 taxi company.

The services are available daily in the capital's 23 wards and its cities of Musashino and Mitaka, as well as Kyoto, including its vicinity. They are offered on Fridays and weekends for the Keihin area centered on Yokohama, and on Fridays and Saturdays for the Nagoya region, according to the transport ministry.

Additionally, the services will be expanded to areas centered on the cities of Sapporo, Sendai, Saitama, Chiba, Osaka, Kobe, Hiroshima and Fukuoka from as early as May.

The operating hours and the number of vehicles dispatched are determined based on ride-hailing app user data collected, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism said.

The ministry also plans to allow the services in other areas, including those in which the apps are not commonly used, on Friday and Saturday evenings, when taxis are typically in short supply.

Under the ride-hailing system, drivers will be required to renew their permit every two years, and only cashless payments will be accepted in principle.

The full lifting of a ban on ride-hailing services such as Uber, directly connecting private car owners with individuals seeking transportation, is still under discussion.