Uber dodges rules that govern taxis

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Uber dodges rules that govern taxis

“Smartphone application connecting a neighbor who needs a ride with one who can give a ride.”

The online catchphrase for the controversial ride-sharing service Uber caught my eye. Connecting neighbors is an interesting expression. It sounds more like carpooling, the sharing of rides among commuters whose destinations are nearby. I looked up specific information about this service, and the “neighbor” changes to a “client.”

Uber offers a luxury limousine service that can be reserved using mobile devices. Its vehicles range from luxury Korean sedans to foreign cars like Mercedes and Audis. It is actually a car service not for neighbors, but rather for regular taxi riders. It reminded me of gypsy cabs, the unlicensed operation that once caused social problems in Korea. The only notable difference is the role of the smartphone application in linking customers and drivers.

The story of Uber’s beginning in San Francisco in 2009 illustrates the real purpose of the service. The frustrated founder came up with the idea for the business after he had been waiting a long time for a cab. It is essentially an alternative to taxis.

Uber claims to be a product of the “sharing economy,” one where more value can be created by sharing existing products or services. For Uber, the vehicles are shared. But its service is more than carpooling and less than a full-fledged taxi operation. It is illegal in every way. The Passenger Transport Service Act prohibits offering rides and charging a fare using privately owned cars or rental cars. Since Uber was introduced in Korea last year, most of its drivers use rental cars.

Moreover, the Passenger Transport Service Act defines strict conditions for taxi operation. Taxi drivers also have to meet various requirements as well as obtain a taxi license. Criminal records are reviewed, and they receive regular training. However, Uber does not comply with these rules. In fact, the rules have not been applied to Uber since it did not go through the legal procedure to be registered as a taxi operator.

That’s why the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and the city of Seoul defined Uber as illegal. But more than 70 Uber cars are in operation in Seoul alone, serving 300-plus riders daily. Regular taxi operators suffer a considerable loss. Last week, 3,000 taxi drivers held a rally to protest Uber.

Some who criticize our taxi service as outdated support the idea of Uber. Uber offers high-end vehicles and doesn’t refuse any passenger. Uber drivers are more courteous. There is no need to mention how poor the taxi service can be in Korea. But that should not be an excuse for avoiding the law. Let’s say licensed restaurants or bars offer lousy service. Would allowing unlicensed stores be an acceptable solution? Taxi service needs to improve for sure. But illegal operations like Uber cannot be an alternative if we are to maintain a minimum of social order.

The author is a national news editor of JTBC.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 27, Page 34


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