Business practices collectively known as the “sharing economy” are offering new ways for local and prefectural governments to address problems such as aging populations and scarce job opportunities.

The sharing economy involves arrangements in which individuals can pay to borrow or rent underused assets owned by others, including not only vehicles and other physical items but also intangible assets such as time and skills. It offers solutions for demand that is difficult to meet using conventional administrative policy measures or existing private-sector services.

The Teshio Municipal Government in Hokkaido launched a ride-sharing program in March last year in cooperation with an intermediary service company in Tokyo.

Residents in Teshio regularly visit Wakkanai, a city located some 70 km away, by car to do shopping or to visit doctors, but Teshio is also home to many elderly people who are unable to drive. The town office introduced a matching program to make shared rides available to residents. The number of trips taken stood at 55 as of the end of last October, servicing a total of 80 passengers.

Many senior residents use the program to visit hospitals. One of them welcomed the offering, describing it as “extremely helpful.”

Costs for the local government to introduce the program were limited to expenses for travel to the town by representatives of the ride-sharing arrangement company, the preparation of documents to inform residents of the program and a few other tasks.

The ride-sharing program is “much more cost-effective” than on-demand bus or taxi services, said a town official involved in the program. But with more drivers needed for the program, the town office is considering measures to reduce related burdens, such as offering a dedicated auto insurance policy for ride-sharing work.

In another example, the Nichinan Municipal Government in Miyazaki Prefecture started a project in 2014 in cooperation with a crowdsourcing service company in Tokyo to outsource the writing of local news articles and websites creation to residents.

Crowdsourcing is a way of farming out work via the internet to a crowd of people. The city office selected three child-rearing women for the project and provided lessons, including on how to secure work, with the aim of enabling them to earn ¥200,000 per month each.

Although none of the three has earned as much as ¥200,000 to date, due in part to the difficulty of setting aside adequate work hours, monthly incomes occasionally exceed ¥150,000, according to city officials.

One of them has also secured a job at an information technology venture company that was encouraged to operate in Nichinan by the city government, and has continued to work while child-rearing by utilizing a teleworking system introduced by the employer.

In the absence of large local companies, job opportunities for women raising children are limited in Nichinan. The project has proved that new, worthwhile work systems “are possible outside urban areas,” a city official said.

The central government is set to promote the use of arrangements that make use of sharing to address local problems. From fiscal 2018, which starts in April, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications plans to carry out model projects using ideas solicited from local governments.

A number of local governments are supporting the ministry’s plan, on the basis of projects they already have under way.

They include the Yamagata Prefectural Government, which is promoting the use of volunteers to clear snow from roofs and support elderly citizens with shopping.

The city of Inuyama, Aichi Prefecture, prioritizes child care support, while the Takeo city office in Saga Prefecture is working to establish a new transportation system for residents in sparsely populated areas.

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