Uber taps into Japan with first taxi-hailing pilot

Uber has found it difficult to penetrate the Japanese market, where risk averse passengers prefer to stick to their high quality traditional taxi service. (AFP)
Updated 22 May 2018
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Uber taps into Japan with first taxi-hailing pilot

TOKYO: Uber announced Tuesday it would start its first taxi-hailing pilot program in Japan this summer, as it bids to break into a tough market in the world’s third largest economy.
The US firm has found it difficult to penetrate 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 like Uber, where consumers order an unlicensed car via a smartphone app.
But Uber said in a statement Tuesday it would launch a pilot program this summer to hook up tourists and residents in the western Awaji island with available taxi drivers.
Uber said it aimed to provide local residents and tourists with “reliable and safe transportation” on the small island, which is home to just over 150,000 people.
“I’m very excited that Uber’s technology will contribute to further enhancing the transit environment of Awaji Island,” Brooks Entwistle, Uber’s Chief Business Officer, said in the statement, adding it will be “the first initiative of its kind in Japan.”
Uber is far from alone in targeting the Japanese taxi market, with Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing and Japanese telecom firm SoftBank announcing a deal in early February to develop a taxi app in Japan.
SoftBank has heavily invested in the taxi market and recently took a 15 percent stake in Uber.
And Sony has said it is planning a joint venture to offer artificial intelligence 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 mobilize their resources.
Carmaker Toyota has also announced an investment of ¥7.5 billion in the JapanTaxi app, which says it is the biggest taxi-hailing app in Japan.


Foreign investors hope India dials back policy shocks after Modi win

Updated 24 May 2019
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Foreign investors hope India dials back policy shocks after Modi win

  • Modi’s pro-business image and India’s youthful population have lured foreign investors
  • After Modi’s win, about a dozen officials of foreign companies in India and their advisers said they hoped he would ease his stance and dilute some of the policies

NEW DELHI: Foreign companies in India have welcomed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election victory for the political stability it brings, but now they need to see him soften a protectionist stance adopted in the past year.
Modi’s pro-business image and India’s youthful population have lured foreign investors, with US firms such as Amazon.com , Walmart and Mastercard committing billions of dollars in investments and ramping up hiring.
India is also the biggest market by users for firms such as Facebook Inc, and its subsidiary, WhatsApp.
But from around 2017, critics say, the Hindu nationalist leader took a harder, protectionist line on sectors such as e-commerce and technology, crafting some policies that appeared to aim at whipping up patriotic fervor ahead of elections.
“I hope he’s now back to wooing businesses,” said Prasanto Roy, a technology policy analyst based in New Delhi, who advises global tech firms.
“Global firms remain deeply concerned about the lack of policy stability or predictability, this has sent a worrying message to global investors.”
India stuck to its policies despite protests and aggressive lobbying by the United States government, US-India trade bodies and companies themselves.
Small hurdles
Modi was set to hold talks on Friday to form a new cabinet after election panel data showed his Bharatiya Janata Party had won 302 of the 542 seats at stake and was leading in one more, up from the 282 it won in 2014.
After Modi’s win, about a dozen officials of foreign companies in India and their advisers told Reuters they hoped he would ease his stance and dilute some of the policies.
Other investors hope the government will avoid sudden policy changes on investment and regulation that catch them off guard and prove very costly, urging instead industry-wide consultation that permits time to prepare.
Protectionism concerns “are small hurdles you have to go through,” however, said Prem Watsa, the chairman of Canadian diversified investment firm Fairfax Financial, which has investments of $5 billion in India.
“There will be more business-friendly policies and more private enterprise coming into India,” he told Reuters in an interview.
Tech, healthcare and beyond
Among the firms looking for more friendly steps are global payments companies that had benefited since 2016 from Modi’s push for electronic payments instead of cash.
Last year, however, firms such as Mastercard and Visa were asked to store more of their data in India, to allow “unfettered supervisory access,” a change that prompted WhatsApp to delay plans for a payments service.
Modi’s government has also drafted a law to clamp similar stringent data norms on the entire sector.
But abrupt changes to rules on foreign investment in e-commerce stoked alarm at firms such as Amazon, which saw India operations disrupted briefly in February, and Walmart, just months after it invested $16 billion in India’s Flipkart.
Policy changes also hurt foreign players in the $5-billion medical device industry, such as Abbott Laboratories, Boston Scientific and Johnson & Johnson, following 2017 price caps on products such as heart stents and knee implants.
Modi’s government said the move aimed to help poor patients and curb profiteering, but the US government and lobby groups said it harmed innovation, profits and investment plans.
“If foreign companies see their future in this country on a long-term basis...they will have to look at the interests of the people,” Ashwani MaHajjan, an official of a nationalist group that pushed for some of the measures, told Reuters.
That view was echoed this week by two policymakers who said government policies will focus on strengthening India’s own companies, while providing foreign players with adequate opportunities for growth.
Such comments worry foreign executives who fear Modi is not about to change his protectionist stance in a hurry, with one offical of a US tech firm saying, “I’d rather be more worried than be optimistic.”