Seoul City gov’t vows crackdown on Uber with fines, jail term

December 2, 2014
(Korea Times file)

(Korea Times file)

By Lee Hyo-sik

Uber Technology, the provider of a controversial ridesharing smartphone app service, has begun offering “regular” taxi services here in cooperation with car rental companies and personal vehicles owners after a successful three-month trial.

The San Francisco-based company had previously only provided a prearranged-call taxi service linking car rental firms with people seeking transportation. Now Uber-affiliated vehicles with no taxi license have started picking up passengers like regular cabs, drawing a strong protest from taxi drivers.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) is calling Uber’s latest move “illegal,” vowing to crack down on those offering the controversial service.

Uber said Tuesday that it began offering taxi services in Seoul on Dec. 1 in cooperation with rental car companies and hundreds of personal vehicle owners. An Uber taxi charges a base fare of 2,500 won, with 610 won added every 1 kilometer.

“We tested UberX during a September to November trial period. It ran successfully without a glitch,” said an executive at Insight Communication, a PR agency representing Uber in Korea. “Our call taxi service called UberBLACK has been very successful. We are positive that UberX will follow in its footsteps.”

UberBLACK, the firm’s app service that started in Seoul in August 2013, connects customers to drivers of luxury cars through partnerships with registered limousine companies. Uber has said it is just providing a platform linking car rental firms with people that need a ride.

Over 90 percent of people who have used Uber’s service wanted to use it again, according to the executive.

”Uber customers said the firm’s service is safer and more satisfactory than other means of public transportation in Seoul. It is our duty as a responsible corporation to offer what consumers need,” she said.

However, the Seoul city government says both UberX and UberBLACK violate the law, stressing that anyone offering this service through the Uber platform will face severe punishment.

“As far as we know, no vehicles have offered UberX because rental car firms and personal vehicle owners do not want to be lawbreakers,” SMG official Choi Eul-ko said. “Those without a taxi license cannot offer rides in return for money. If they do, they will be in big trouble.”

Under the country’s Passenger Transport Services Act, which only allows registered companies to offer taxi services, people who solicit a ride using a private or rented car could be sentenced to up to two years in prison or fined 20 million won.

Choi stressed that Uber must abide by Korea’s laws. ”Uber has to obey domestic laws if they want to do business here. If it behaves as if it is beyond our laws and we receive a tip that Uber vehicles are offering taxi services, we will immediately clamp down on them.”

SMG has asked the city council to pass an ordinance that offers a 200,000 won reward to those who notify the authorities of Uber’s taxi service, from January.

“We will do whatever it takes to stop Uber from engaging in illicit business,” Choi said.

35 Comments

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  3. evan

    December 2, 2014 at 7:06 PM

    They could at least explain why it’s illegal to offer taxi services without a license. So far it looks like a great service introduced to the free market.

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