Photo/IllutrationA taxi during a taxi-sharing service trial run conducted by the ministry between Jan. 22 and March 11, 2017, that covered Tokyo’s 23 wards as well as Musashino and Mitaka cities in the capital (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Taxi rides with strangers may be just the lift needed for offsetting expected cab shortages during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

A government council decided March 7 to move forward with lifting the ban on taxi ride-sharing nationwide.

"Taxi ride-sharing allows users to travel for cheaper fares," said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who chaired the meeting of the Council on Investments for the Future on the day.

Abe instructed the transport minister and other officials to forge ahead with the plan to be fleshed out.

The number of visitors from abroad is expected to soar for the 2020 Games and other events. To deal with a potential taxi shortage, the plan is expected to be included in the government's economic growth strategy scheduled to be compiled in summer. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism aims to turn the plan into reality during fiscal 2019.

The council decided to liberalize ride-sharing taxi service operations across the country for vehicles operated by existing taxi operators, but to maintain a ban on such a service for “shirotaku” cabs that use private automobiles to charge passengers for their ride.

Ride-sharing services such as U.S.-based Uber Technologies Inc. that allow general drivers to use their own vehicles to charge passengers for their ride will not be permitted under the planned service in Japan.

Via a smartphone app, the newly planned taxi ride-sharing will bring together multiple would-be passengers heading to the same direction for fares split based on distance, which will be cheaper than a typical taxi fare riding alone.

The service also aims to encourage passengers to use a cashless payment system.

It remains to be seen how much demand there would be for such a service, as the idea has raised concerns about privacy and noise issues, with some making comments like, "I don't want strangers to know where I live," or "I would be anxious about sharing a taxi with a passenger of the opposite sex."

Although taxi ride-sharing is prohibited, in principle, in Japan, taxi operators can offer taxi ride-share services once they obtain a license to operate such a business, such as bus operators do. However, they are required to confer with municipalities and other entities to obtain their consent.

As of the end of March 2017, about 12,000 ride-share cabs were in operation, mainly in lightly populated areas of the country, according to the transport ministry.