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Is Korea ready?

The car sharing service Uber was very useful when travelling abroad. Thanks to Uber, I could get around during a business trip to San Francisco in mid September. Whenever I requested a car, I never had to wait for more than three minutes. On Sept. 13, I got a warning that there could be delays after the San Francisco Giants played the LA Dodgers. That day, I called Uber and waited just eight minutes. And the fare was cheaper than a taxi.

San Francisco is the home of Uber, where Travis Kalanick founded the company in 2010. Locals were generally favorable to Uber, and the Uber drivers were raving over the car sharing company.

Joseph works as an IT security consultant in Silicon Valley, but as he only reports to the office twice a week, he drives an Uber on his free time. He says that driving a cab is not so flexible. Former Uber driver Jeffrey also said that he has his own car, but those who don’t own one can borrow a car from Uber and be an Uber driver as long as they have driving records. He argues that Uber is a great company that offers opportunities to drivers without cars. Full-time Uber driver Eric says cab drivers with good driving records can drive Ubers, and he is making good money.

Lately, Uber came under fire. As founder Kalanick stepped down for use of inappropriate language and mishandling of sexual harassment allegations, Dara Khosrowshahi of Expedia, the biggest online travel site, became the new CEO of Uber. Last weekend, it was announced that the transportation regulator of London, one of the biggest markets, did not renew Uber’s license.

Also, there is a more fundamental criticism. Sharing economy platforms like Uber turn self-employed individuals into petty businesses and accelerate the market monopoly.

However, when a service is convenient to users and individual operators are satisfied, the tendency cannot be stopped. Joseph makes money using his car through an Uber “gig” in the evening after work, and to him, Uber is an innovation, not evil.

Arun Sundararajan, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, is an authority on sharing economies, and he claims Uber will change the industries more than Google or Facebook will. It is targeting the $10 trillion-a-year automobile and transportation market, which is far larger than the $500 billion-a-year advertising business.

Irregular employee Joseph and full-time driver Jeffrey voluntarily chose to drive for Uber. Whether they choose Uber, rival Lyft or China’s Didi Chuxing is a secondary issue. The waves of innovation to change the world are flowing fast. Is Korea ready to face the challenge?

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 27, Page 30

*The author is a writing editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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