Controversy Surrounds Consideration of Ride-Sharing Approval During Osaka Expo Amid Concerns Over Monopoly and Transportation Network Security | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Controversy Surrounds Consideration of Ride-Sharing Approval During Osaka Expo Amid Concerns Over Monopoly and Transportation Network Security

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Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura of Osaka Prefecture advocates for the introduction of ride-sharing.

With less than 10 months until the Osaka-Kansai Expo.

In major metropolitan areas across the country, the operation of “Japanese-style ride-sharing,” managed by taxi operators, began gradually in April, and they are slowly starting to operate in city centers. In terms of the introduction of Japanese-style ride-sharing, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, members of the National Diet, and taxi operators have been exchanging opinions, and the introduction has proceeded at a fairly rapid pace. The background to the operation, aimed at solving the problem of taxi shortages, is common throughout the country.

However, when it comes to Osaka, there are two points that feel different from other regions regarding the history of ride-sharing operations. One is that the event of the Expo has played a significant role in the process of introducing ride-sharing. The other is the excessive support of prefectural policies towards specific operators.

Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura has revealed the belief that “during the Expo, about 30% more taxis than usual are needed, with a maximum shortage of 2,300 taxis per day,” and has indicated a policy that ride-sharing could be a solution to this issue. Looking at the details, unlike the Japanese-style ride-sharing with restricted hours and operational times, he is seeking a significant relaxation without vehicle number restrictions, operating 24 hours a day throughout Osaka. Essentially, the argument is that during the Expo, Osaka should implement a full-scale exemption as a special case.

Since last winter, fundamental concerns about passenger transport during the Expo have already been heard in Osaka. However, this is largely due to anxiety stemming from the simple fact that they were unable to secure enough bus drivers. Access to the Expo venue is estimated to primarily rely on shuttle buses from the Subway Chuo Line and major stations. However, the critical shortage remains the gathering of approximately 180 necessary bus drivers.

They have taken measures such as subsidies and active advertising campaigns, but none of these have proven effective. In this situation, with the expected occupancy rate reaching 140% on the Chuo Line during the event period, there is a high likelihood of disrupting the daily commute for regular passengers as well. In response to these circumstances, representatives from taxi and bus companies have voiced the following concerns:

“Firstly, where is the evidence that there’s a shortage of 2,300 taxis in the first place?”

“Given the opacity of actual passenger transport numbers for buses and other railways during the Expo, is the Expo Association’s figure valid?”

“If indeed there is an increase of 2,300 taxis, it will undoubtedly cause traffic congestion on the route to the venue.”

Additionally, opinions have been leaked from city administration and parliamentary officials:

“How will ride-sharing drivers be recruited amidst the inability to gather bus operators?”

“The pronounced fragmentation within the Expo Association is causing exhaustion among prefectural and municipal staff in handling the situation.”

Such opinions have been leaking out.

At the end of last year, representatives from several taxi companies in Osaka contacted the author, expressing concerns about the potential monopolization of ride-sharing.

During the “Ride-Sharing Experts Conference” attended by Governor Yoshimura and Mayor Hideyuki Yokoyama at the time, a taxi operator noticed that, oddly, only one company from the industry was participating in the conference. This raised suspicions among peers about the structure and the content of their statements being excessively biased.

In March of this year, “newmo,” backed by Mercari, announced its entry into the ride-sharing business under the “OSAKA Model” starting from autumn. Governor Yoshimura, who participated in the press conference, criticized the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, stating, “In Japan, a country where ride-sharing cannot be decided by local leaders alone.” Some media outlets, including specialist magazines, labeled this as “Is the Osaka Governor endorsing a private company?” In response to such remarks, a representative of a taxi company in Osaka revealed to the author:

“Governor Yoshimura is eagerly pursuing transportation reforms for the Expo. However, he has not presented a concrete plan for post-Expo measures regarding ride-sharing, such as lifting restrictions and rapidly increasing vehicles for the Expo aftermath. Steering in this manner risks collapsing Osaka’s public transportation after the Expo. The current situation unavoidably stems from initially inadequate planning.”

Amid objective concerns about transportation during the Expo, such as shortages of bus drivers and taxis, and the potential for public transport congestion, addressing these issues undoubtedly requires political intervention. However, Osaka’s sudden embrace of the heated debate over ride-sharing legalization since last summer reflects a significant aspect of the situation.

We are less than 10 months away from the opening of the Osaka Expo.

The more I conduct interviews, the more I feel that promoting ride-sharing is a measure for self-preservation. The issue is not complex but rather very simple. Above all, amidst such stacked-up problems and countries withdrawing, it’s hardly believable that the Expo Association’s transportation plan announced a maximum of 220,000 visitors per day. Furthermore, fundamentally speaking, it’s difficult to imagine that visitors would rely so heavily on expensive transportation methods like ride-sharing and taxis to the extent that full deregulation is necessary.

In this situation, how does the Taxi Association at the center of the storm perceive things? Atsunori Sakamoto, 59, Chairman of the Osaka Taxi Association, reveals his thoughts on the current outcry about taxi shortages.

“In current Osaka, there is hardly a situation where taxis are insufficient. There are no shortages at major taxi stands, and the number of drivers has increased by 10,000 since last year. In other words, we have made significant improvements from the previously mentioned taxi shortage. In this context, I feel a strong sense of discomfort towards the prefectural and municipal stance last year claiming a shortage of 2,300 taxis and advocating for full deregulation of ride-sharing. The validity of the number 2,300 itself is questionable. If such a large number of vehicles were added, both taxi and ride-sharing drivers would see reduced earnings, and there could be an increase in drivers leaving passenger transport, leading to a more dire situation.”

Mr. Sakamoto, who has been involved in the management of both taxi and bus companies, also warns “The sudden increase in bus personnel tailored to events like the Expo could lead to the collapse of regular bus services.”

“Like many regions, bus companies in Osaka are also struggling. Some have gone bankrupt, and the number of local bus routes is decreasing. It’s a serious issue as it’s becoming difficult for people to travel. Even if the Expo manages to recruit a large number of personnel under favorable conditions, if we continue to rely on external and internal sources for staffing, what will happen to regular bus routes afterwards? If Osaka plans transportation reforms like ride-sharing for the Expo, they must present post-event plans and long-term guidelines. Otherwise, it’s just wishful thinking.”

Amid numerous voices of doubt, concerns over transportation compound the challenges facing the Osaka Expo. There isn’t much time left until these issues need to be resolved.

  • Reporting and writing Shimei Kurita, nonfiction writer Photo Afro

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