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Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism
Controlling Mobility as a Service

Imagine finding the ideal route to a destination, making travel reservations, and paying fares with a single smartphone app. That’s the pro-mise of Mobility as a Service (MaaS). Seeing this technology as the travel system of the future, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) has taken a commanding lead among government ministries and agencies by issuing overall guidelines for a Japanese version of MaaS.

Finland and other European nations are already well along in promoting MaaS, which is seen as a means of bringing cars, trains, planes, and other methods of transportation into a single service. So, the recent announcement that Toyota Motor Corporation and SoftBank Group Corp. will cooperate in this field made headlines.

MaaS is one of the more conspicuous future investment issues to be taken up by the Japanese government. Various ministries and agencies are competing for authority on a range of items, including smartphone and data tie-ups (Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications) and new automotive services based on Big Data (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry). Because other means of transportation, such as railways, taxis, and buses would also be involved in MaaS, MLIT had a great interest in being a guiding force. But because its initiatives were carried out piecemeal in–stead of on a ministry-wide basis until around the middle of 2018, efforts to do so lagged. Beginning last fall, a process of ministry-wide consolidation began and the general policy bureau became responsible for coor-dination with the other bureaus.

Through conferences with expert con-sultants, in just six months MLIT issued guidelines for the Realization of the Japanese Version of MaaS. In particular, the ministry focused on increasing the number of traffic operators and users of the technology. From this, two varieties applicable to any part of the country were proposed:

  • Urban type to deal primarily with issues such as road congestion and environmental damage
  • Rural type aimed at maintaining public transportation and realizing assistance for transport-challenged individuals, such as the aged and handicapped

As part of its efforts in this area, measures will also be taken to standardize data related to public transportation to be used for real-time positioning as well as monitoring passenger and transit congestion.

Adoption of MLIT’s plan by various transportation means and providers is expected to pick up steam.

Ministry of Finance
Unlikely prospects for digital taxation

As a pet project, the Ministry of Finance has been exploring the establishment of international rules for digital taxation. The goal is to prevent information technology-related businesses from evading taxes.

However, at the G20 Summit in Osaka, the ministry’s focus found competition from unrelated themes. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the media raised concerns over other issues, such as the establishment of international rules for data distribution, expansion of education for women, and reduction of plastic waste in the oceans—matters that typically fall under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

“Sure, expansion of education for women and reduction of plastic waste in the seas are important issues,” a management-level bureaucrat at the Ministry of Finance grudgingly remarked, “but I don’t think they warrant top priority.”

At the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors’ Meeting, Japan had hoped to advance plans for digital taxation in line with an earlier US proposal concerning taxation on profits earned from such intan-gible assets as brand power or customer databases. Through deliberations by the G20 and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, it had sought to establish rules for such taxation by 2020.

A particularly strong backer of this effort is Vice Minister of Finance for International Affairs Masashi Asakawa, who, from last January, set the record for the longest tenure at this post since the current system was adopted in 1968.

Finance Minister Taro Aso represented Japan at the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors’ Meeting, but a member of the government who requested not to be named was quoted as saying, “It’s possible [Asakawa] was hoping to exit the stage as a winner, having achieved his aims at the G20. I suppose Aso wants it that way, and so does Asakawa.”

Keizaikai magazine