As Uber looks to expand its food courier service in Japan, the rideshare giant has faced road blocks rarely seen on the home soil of the United States. But putting grandma and grandpa in running shoes seems to make sense.
Uber Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi told Bloomberg News his company's food-delivery in Japan, where rideshare is banned, has taken an alternative route to delivering food.
Japan is a growing nation for food-delivery — still way far behind the US— and the country has a very low unemployment rate. With a growing demand for food delivery, more of the elderly population has applied to become couriers.
"The elderly are actually signing up for Eats couriers," Khosrowshahi said. "Eats has been a huge success for us in Japan. It is going to be a very effective introduction to the Uber brand."
The report states that 15,000 couriers already deliver food for more than 10,000 restaurants in Japan, but they only reach 15 percent of the country's population. That's far less than Uber Eats in the States, where it reaches roughly 70 percent of America's population.
In Japan, the majority of current food deliverers bring the product via scooter or bicycle, but the older generation of applicants prefer to do it by foot.
With an unemployment rate of 2.4%, near quarter-century lows, Japan’s labor market is tight. The population is aging; adult diapers outsell baby diapers.
"This is one area unique to Japan, and we are looking if we can expand to the rest of the world," Khosrowshahi said.
That plan includes increasing staffing levels in Japan by at least 30 percent over the next year, and these jobs aren't limited to grannies in sneakers. They also include sales, operations and account management. It's still a slow pace considering the San Francisco-based company has more than 22,000 employees.
There are cab-hailing apps available, as well as Uber Black, a car-hire service that's only available in Tokyo for now.
"It will take time, but we like what we see in terms of the potential of the market," Khosrowshahi said. "The innovations that we are going to make in taxi here are going to carry around the world."
Given Japan's strict regulations against ride-sharing, Uber has chosen to work with regulators. It rolled out a pilot program in 2016 to provide rides to seniors in the small coastal town of Tangocho, where an aging population was left with dwindling public transport services.
Last year, Uber pivoted to partnerships with local taxi companies. It now has deals with eight cab companies in as many cities, including popular tourist destinations Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima.