Uber returns to Korea with its luxury service

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Uber returns to Korea with its luxury service

Taxi-hailing app operator Uber Technologies is returning to Korea with its luxury Uber Black service by the end of this year, pitting itself against Kakao’s similar Kakao Taxi Black.

The controversial American start-up was railroaded out of Korea earlier this year, but it is now able to reboot Uber Black after the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport revised a bill on passenger cars in September.

The revision has made on-demand chauffeur services like Uber Black legal, as long as the vehicles’ engine displacement is 3 liters (0.8 gallons) or larger.

Uber said it signed an agreement with Kia Motors for the revamped service. Drivers who wish to become Uber Black drivers can purchase Kia Motors’ K9 large-size luxury sedans at a cheaper rate.

Back in August, Uber teamed up with the Hyundai Motor affiliate to provide cheaper new vehicles in the Nigerian city of Lagos to reduce costs for new drivers.

Uber anticipates the number of drivers there will increase fivefold to 3,000 by the end of next year.

After losing its lengthy battle with the Seoul Metropolitan Government and nearly becoming extinct earlier this year, Uber has adopted a new, more deferential attitude towards the city.

“This relaunch comes after many months of dialogue and collaboration with drivers, industry associations, Korean companies and other local parties to better understand local needs and requirements and how we can best serve Seoul and its residents,” said Calvin Kang, general manager of Uber Korea, on Wednesday.

“Uber has been working closely with Seoul city officials to ensure that Uber is contributing to the transportation needs of Seoul,” the company said in a release.

The company will dispatch its vehicles Friday and Saturday nights to around Gangnam Station, where taxi drivers notoriously demand double or triple the ordinary fees and refuse customers who do not comply.

Entering Korea in August 2013, Uber first launched Uber Black here after forging a partnership with local limousine rental service providers. But company suddenly hit various regulatory snags after it introduced Uber X in August 2014, which allowed anyone with a car and driver’s license to offer rides cheaper than normal taxis.

The service was instantly rebuked by local taxi drivers, who insisted it would hurt their livelihoods.

After a dogfight between taxi drivers and Uber, the Seoul government declared all Uber services illegal in January.

Uber was eventually forced to limit the customers for Uber Black to foreigners, people aged 65 or older and the handicapped to avoid any legal disputes, and scrapped Uber X in March.

Uber Taxi, which works the same as Kakao Taxi, has remained intact on the app and remains operational.

In the meantime, Kakao, the operator of the popular mobile messenger KakaoTalk, joined forces with existing taxis to launch its own taxi app in March, as well as its luxury Kakao Black service on Nov. 3.

BY SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun@joongang.co.kr]
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