• Kyodo

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DeNA Co. and the Kanagawa Taxi Association jointly launched a ride-hailing app Thursday to efficiently match customers with taxies through an improved platform and an artificial-intelligence-based system amid a serious labor shortage.

Taxi Bell, which can only be used in Kanagawa Prefecture, has solved some of the problems plaguing existing ride-hailing apps, including complicated operations, long wait times, matching failures and cash payment issues, they said.

Potential demand has been estimated at 40 percent, and the companies hope the new app can help meet some of that demand by ironing out such problems.

The platforms of existing ride-hailing apps are based on a system where taxis are called by phone and matched through operators. Taxi Bell has improved services by connecting passengers and drivers directly, DeNA said.

The ride-hailing app will also be equipped with an AI-based system this year to help drivers find passengers efficiently by estimating demand through weather, date, area and traffic information.

“The taxi industry is currently facing an overwhelming labor shortage, the biggest challenge in the industry’s history, which could also lead to a boost in (illegal) ride-sharing services as well,” Hiroshi Ito, head of the Kanagawa Taxi Association, said at a news conference.

“The Taxi Bell app will enable inexperienced new drivers to work efficiently … I’m confident it will be the trigger to improve the industry’s working conditions,” Ito said.

Taxi Bell is used by some 3,000 vehicles in Kanagawa Prefecture, or roughly 30 percent of the total in the area, but the joint partners hope to eventually expand its service across the country.

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