Uber Technologies Inc., the San Francisco-based ride-booking app developer that’s valued at $17 billion, is adding a taxi-hailing feature in Tokyo that allows users to ride in Lexus LS and BMW 7-series cabs.
UberTAXI begins operations today in the Japanese capital, along with UberTAXILUX, a version that hails luxury cabs. The two new services add to the company’s UberBLACK service started in the city in March and will be overseen by Masami Takahashi, a former Sony Corp. (6758) product manager, who replaced Tak Shiohama as president last month.
The app developer’s use of taxis in Tokyo lets it skirt the barriers it has faced in cities where established cab services have protested that the company’s services unfairly draw customers to drivers without the licenses and permits required for taxis. Uber, backed partly by Google Inc. (GOOG)’s investment arm, is betting its Tokyo service will appeal to visitors as the city prepares for the Olympic Games.
“Tokyo needs a service like this as the city gears up for the 2020 Olympics,” Takahashi told reporters today in Tokyo. “This will make transportation easier for foreign visitors.”
He declined to give any targets for the service and said it is “expanding rapidly.”
Some cities have curtailed Uber and similar apps on concerns about safety and competition with established taxi services.
The Uber app runs on smartphones or tablets in 18 languages and can dispatch a driver to the user’s location at the push of a button. The service competes with Tokyo-based taxi companies’ own smartphone apps and global rivals including U.K.-based Hailo Network Ltd.
Uber is available in 158 cities worldwide as of today, according to the company. Tokyo is the first city to use the uberTAXILUX feature, said Takahashi. The service may be expanded globally should it prove a success, he said.
“It gives the users yet another choice,” Takahashi said in an interview. “If we can find a way to make this work in Japan, then depending on the markets and the taxi situation in different cities, it’s possible that other cities will say ’hey, we also have very nice cars, so we’d like to start the service here.’”
The luxury-taxi booking feature overlaps with uber’s original Tokyo service, UberBLACK, which also offers premium cars. UberBLACK includes services such as door-opening and uses an unmarked fleet leased from taxi operators.
Uber charges 500 yen ($4.90) more for uberTAXILUX than for uberTAXI, it said in the statement. Tokyo taxis generally charge 710 yen for the first 2 kilometers, and 90 yen for every additional 288 meters, according to the Taxisite Inc. website.
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