Business | Japan Pulse

Will Line put the brakes on Uber with its taxi app?

by Irene Wang

Contributing Writer

In the not-so-distant future, it might be considered quaint to hail a taxi with your hand instead of using a smartphone app.

Line Corporation, after expanding its mobile business with game apps and online purchases, is expanding its smartphone messaging platform with a new service called Line Taxi for users to book cabs in Tokyo via its app.

Launched in January, users simply type their address into the app and, with GPS, the taxi’s dispatch time appears on the map. The taxi ride is automatically paid for using a pre-registered credit card, so there is no need to worry about having cash on hand. Line hopes the app will be useful for people who don’t want to fight over cabs during rush hour.

Competitor Uber, a taxi booking app that’s already available in 55 countries, already expanded its service to Tokyo last spring and has many similar features to Line Taxi.

However, along with Uber’s global expansion has come a series of huge bumps in the road, including an Uber driver being accused of raping a passenger in India in December 2014, and in the same month in Australia, Uber was harshly criticized for jacking up prices during the hostage situation in downtown Sydney. (They quickly apologized for the snafu.)

Uber has also come under fire after testing out its services in Fukuoka. The government told the company to suspend its pilot project as the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry believes that the smartphone application service likely violates the Road Transportation Law prohibiting unlicensed taxi services.

Although Line Taxi doesn’t have the premium service of luxury cars like Uber, the face that Line’s partner is Nihon Kotsu, Japan’s largest taxi company, means there might not be a big gap between the two. More than 3,000 taxis will be connected to Line, and the company plans to include more than 23,000 taxis for its service nationwide.

Currently Line Taxi is only available in Japanese and the fare has to be paid with a Japanese credit card, but the app is expected to become more foreigner-friendly in the future and expand coverage throughout Japan. The company first said that they wanted to take their taxi service global since previewing it last October.

So what’s it going to be? Will you get in Line?