The new Japan Taxi might look familiar to anyone who has ever been to London.
The new Japan Taxi might look familiar to anyone who has ever been to London.

Tokyo — On Tuesday, electronics giant Sony announced a plan to provide an artificial intelligence (AI)-based ride-hailing system to Japanese cab companies, while another taxi firm said they were in talks with Uber on a tie-up.

Sony said it was planning a joint venture to offer AI technology to six taxi operators, which currently own a total of 10,000 vehicles in Tokyo. The technology would use AI to predict demand for taxis and allow companies to more efficiently mobilise their resources.

The companies will form a joint venture this spring to develop a taxi-hailing app, though Sony said further discussions would be held before any legally-binding agreement is inked.

Also on Tuesday, Daiichi Kotsu Sangyo, a taxi company based in southern Fukuoka prefecture, announced they are in talks to join hands with US ride-sharing titan Uber. Taxi-hailing apps have found it challenging to crack the Japanese market, where risk-averse passengers prefer to stick to their high-quality traditional taxi service.

Hailing a taxi rarely takes more than a few seconds in major Japanese cities and there has been a relatively sluggish uptake of services such as Uber. The vast majority of taxis are hailed or hired from a cab rank, and a relatively small percentage of taxis are connected to a smartphone, posing another barrier to the success of apps such as Uber.

However, the number of taxi passengers has been on the decline, dropping by a third between 2005 and 2015, according to the transport ministry. Taxi companies hope apps could be a way to win back customers.

Sony’s plans come after Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing announced a deal with Japanese telecom firm SoftBank to develop a taxi app in Japan, earlier this month. SoftBank is heavily present in the taxi market and recently took a 15% stake in Uber.

Car maker Toyota also announced an investment of ¥7.5bn ($70m) in the JapanTaxi app this month, which says it is the biggest taxi-hailing app in Japan.

AFP