Uber launches premium service

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Uber launches premium service

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Taxi-hailing app Uber made a comeback in Seoul on Tuesday with its upscale UberBLACK service, in a move that directly competes with Kakao’s premium KakaoTaxi Black service.

The launch marks 10 months after the app’s low-cost UberX service in Korea was forced to close over its noncompliance with local transportation laws.

Uber Korea said the UberBLACK service became available yesterday, with its base fare set at 8,000 won ($6.6), the same as KakaoTaxi Black. The rate is higher than that of regular cabs, which start at 3,000 won, and deluxe cabs, which start at 5,000 won.

Anyone in Seoul can use the new service though the Uber app and track their routes on the platform. The premium service will be provided by veteran taxi drivers with five or more years of cab driving experience without an accident, a major selling point.

“No one knows Seoul better than veteran taxi drivers, so we’re pleased to be working with them and providing Uber’s technology and service expertise in order to serve Seoul citizens and improve drivers’ livelihoods,” said Calvin Kang, general manager of Uber Korea.

Uber said the latest high-end service complies with city regulations.

“The revised Enforcement Decree of the Passenger Transport Service Act announced in September 2015 laid the groundwork for premium taxi services,” the company said in a statement.

The sticky issue with UberX was its employment of nonprofessional drivers, but the new UberBLACK service cleared the hurdle by working with experienced taxi drivers.

Uber Korea said the drivers are classified as independent contractors rather than employees of Uber.

UberBLACK’s primary car model is Kia Motors’ K9 sedan. Uber Korea signed a partnership with the automaker to provide the K9 at discounted prices.

However, drivers can opt not to use the K9 if they already have high-end vehicles such as Hyundai Motor’s Equus.

UberBLACK is expected to compete against KakaoTaxi Black, which launched last November. The service also started in Seoul but has since extended its coverage area. Kakao is keen on leveraging its huge user network from KakaoTaxi, a service used for hailing regular cabs.

Uber in Korea faces challenges not only from rivals like Kakao but also potential resistance from its own drivers as well as others competing against the app in high-end livery services. In London, black cab drivers are pushing for a review of UberBLACK’s legality in the city.

The premium service currently serves tens of thousands of riders every day in hundreds of cities around the world, with major cities including San Francisco, Sydney, Shanghai and Moscow, according to the company.

Uber Korea had prelaunched UberBLACK in select areas of Gangnam District and Seocho District at the end of last year. The company said the average driver rating was 4.8 out of five stars during the trial period, one of the highest among operating cities.

“We will conduct a specialized training session for the drivers and provide other regular instruction to ensure quality service,” a spokeswoman for Uber Korea said.


BY PARK EUN-JEE [park.eunjee@joongang.co.kr]

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