Japanese Web Services Company Tests “Free” Ride-Hailing Service

DeNA Co. Ltd., a Japanese provider of internet services, has launched a free ride-hailing service in Tokyo.

Fares are paid for by sponsors who plaster DeNA’s cars with advertising messages, The Nikkei reports. Initial service will be delivered by a 50-car fleet whose vehicles can be hailed only in the city center but which will take riders to any of Tokyo’s 23 wards.

DeNA hopes to line up more sponsors. It also is exploring such ideas as arranging rides when users make restaurant reservations or automatically setting up rides based on a user’s events calendar.

The free rides, which will be available through December, are made through DeNA’s Mov smartphone app. The same app is being used to coordinate rides through five Tokyo taxi companies

Next year DeNA plans to begin helping its participating taxi companies deploy their fleets more efficiently with artificial intelligence-driven forecasts about time-of-day demand, fastest routes, weather issues, events and other factors.

The company says similar techniques being tested by 5,500 taxis southwest of Tokyo in Kanagawa Prefecture generated as much as six times as many trips as companies relying on traditional call-and-respond service.