Uber to provide taxi service for foreigners in Seoul

Posted on : 2019-01-24 16:13 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Ride-hailing company teams up with KST mobility to take another crack at S. Korean market
Uber headquarters in San Francisco
Uber headquarters in San Francisco

On Jan. 28, Uber will be launching a ride-hailing service for Seoul’s International Taxi, which connects foreign tourists with taxi drivers who can speak their language. Uber X, a ride-sharing service that uses people’s personal cars, took off in South Korea in 2013 only to be taken to court by the city of Seoul. But now Uber is making a second attempt to enter the South Korean market through a taxi ride-hailing service.

According to industry sources and city officials who spoke with the Hankyoreh on Jan. 23, Uber Korea and KST Mobility, which operates the International Taxi service, recently signed a work agreement and will be launching a trial version of International Taxi ride-hailing via the Uber app on Jan. 28. Sources say that KST Mobility has recently been gearing up to launch the service by giving its drivers additional training in using the Uber app.

Thanks to its cooperation with Uber, the International Taxi service will soon allow on-demand ride-hailing in real time. Uber is planning to add an “International Taxi” menu to its Uber app, and International Taxi drivers will install the app and pick up foreign passengers who ask for rides.

“Foreigners have been unable to use the familiar Uber service in South Korea, and we think this will make traveling more convenient for these foreigners,” said a Seoul city government official.

With 350 vehicles or so on the roads in Seoul, International Taxi provides drivers who are capable of speaking foreign languages and have received additional service training. Because of the additional interpretation that drivers provide foreign passengers, these taxis cost 20% more than ordinary taxis. Until now, an International Taxi vehicle could be reserved on the telephone or online or lined up by visiting the company’s counter in the arrivals area at Incheon or Gimpo airports. These taxis have primary been used for traveling from the airport to Seoul or for charter tours.

Uber launched its car-sharing service Uber X in South Korea in 2013, but a complaint was filed with the prosecutors by the city of Seoul and taxi companies, which regarded Uber’s service as “charging for transportation in a personal car,” which is banned by the Passenger Transport Service Act. The company ended up on trial. Since then, Uber has provided its services on a limited basis, including Uber Eats, a food delivery service; Uber Black, a luxury taxi service; Uber Trip, an hourly rental service; and Uber Assist, which helps out those with accessibility issues.

In Nov. 2018, Uber Korea appointed Son Hui-seok as its new head of mobility in South Korea and said that it would “work on diversifying and expanding its business.” Uber has broadened its operations in the global market while trying out a variety of business models, ranging from car-sharing to ride-hailing, that reflect the regulatory environments and transportation systems in different cities and countries. Conceivably, Uber could draw upon International Taxi’s service experience to expand into the taxi-oriented mobility market. Even now, it’s not impossible to hail ordinary taxis on Uber Economy, but the number of taxi drivers and passengers using the service is so small as to be effectively nonexistent,.

If Uber moves forward aggressively with its ride-hailing service, competition is likely to intensify between Kakao Mobility, which dominates the market, and SKT’s T Map Taxi, which is trailing behind.

“With an Uber IPO in the offing this year, Uber is paying attention to the number of countries in which its services are available. Given how controversial car-sharing is in South Korea, Uber might focus on taxis here,” said a source in the mobility industry.

By Park Tae-woo, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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