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[INTERVIEW] Mobility leader calls for calm and mediation

May 21,2019
Socar CEO Lee Jae-woong in February explains the Tada Premium service at a press conference held in Heyground in Seongsu-dong, eastern Seoul. [JOONGANG ILBO]
Extreme taxi protests are back, this time focused like a laser beam on Tada, a ride-hailing company.

Amid the noise, confusion and horror, Lee Jae-woong, CEO of Socar, the parent company of VCNC, which offers the Tada service, demanded the government to come up with reasonable measures to solve the endless and escalating crisis.

On Friday, Lee wrote, “Death and violence should end,” after another self-immolation by a taxi driver.

When the JoongAng Ilbo asked Lee on Sunday about the situation, he asked, “Is everything solved when Tada disappears?”

“Even the government remains a spectator, as if it is going to take sides with the winner and is not looking for a fundamental solution,” Lee noted.

Below are edited excerpts of the conversation with Lee.



Q. The opposition from the taxi industry is fierce.

A
. We are creating a new market, different from the market for taxis. Saying that the taxi industry is having a hard time due to Tada, which operates 11-passenger vans, is like saying that people do not take taxis due to subways, so we should get rid of subways. Let’s look at the data. Taxi drivers argue that because of Tada, their revenue dropped. However, our yearly sales are similar to the credit card fees returned to taxi drivers every year. So, can we say that Tada threatens the livelihoods of drivers? There are people who exaggerate the fear towards mobility industry and stir horror about an unclear future.



There have been deaths.

It is truly miserable. I think the taxi driver must have felt extreme fear and desolation. It is beyond horrible. What I want to clearly say is that there should not be another death. Our society tends to drive individuals to extremes. Death should never be a way to address an issue.



Are you making efforts to engage the taxi industry?

I really want to have a conversation with the industry. Both through official and unofficial channels, I requested several times to talk and to create a win-win solution. Yet the taxi unions rejected my offer. They warned us by sending an official document that they could take extreme measures. Their prerequisite for conversation is to suspend the Tada service, so how are we able to start a conversation?



But isn’t it right to coexist with an existing industry?

We are going to work hard to achieve that, but at this point, there are not many things that we can do by ourselves. Tada has 1,000 vehicles. Would reducing it to 800 make negotiations possible? I think that it does not benefit the taxi industry either. What I think is that the taxi industry has to call for a solution from the government. Taxi drivers have transported people to their destinations for decades. To show respect for their contributions, we need a large organization that allows negotiation to compensate for that. It is meaningless to talk about whether it is legal or not with us right now. If taxi drivers stop the service of Tada, another Tada will come out, and it will be stopped, and how could this be sustained? Anyhow, if the autonomous vehicle becomes a trend in the future, it is obvious that the taxi industry will be reduced in size. I think, before that time comes, the taxi industry has to discuss ways with the government to minimize the damage.



What kinds of solutions are there?

It is inevitable for the traditional industry to be damaged by an innovative industry. Commercial marts encroached on traditional markets, and automobiles pushed out wagons. Then, when a crisis emerges for the traditional industry, what the government should do is minimize the damage for the people working in the industry. I think that helps the innovative industry.

The number of workers in the taxi business exceeds 200,000 and the yearly sales total 10 trillion won ($8.36 billion). If the government lets the industries decide on their own, and if autonomous vehicles dominate the world, what would they do? Drivers of privately-owned taxis will be harmed or trillions of won of government subsidies will have to be committed.



Does the government have the finances to do that?

Around a trillion won of government finances already go into the taxi industry. The government financially supports fuels costs, returns commission fees on credit cards and reduces taxes. Some of the funds should be used to reduce the number of taxis. The government has to make a way out for drivers who quit and voluntarily retire. It is necessary for old taxi drivers, and it can also reduce the oversupply of taxis. Of course, it is not as easy as it sounds.



Why do you keep posting your thoughts on Facebook?

Not only the government but also the media do not look deeply into the situation and try to find the solution. If a problem emerges, they only superficially deliver what the taxi industry and the Tada service providers said. However, this is not someone else’s business. A trillion won of our tax is put in every year, yet the satisfaction level of customers is low and taxi drivers keep on saying that they are having a hard time.

This problem is not solved by just educating taxi drivers to be kind and raising the taxi fee. Isn’t it right for the government to disclose all the relevant data and find a way to solve this situation by putting our heads together with the industry? An industry that’s responsible for millions is in a crisis, yet nobody sincerely talks and merely considers it as someone else’s business. That is why I keep posting.


BY PARK MIN-JE [kim.heyu@joongang.co.kr]


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