SKT relaunches T map taxi app

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SKT relaunches T map taxi app

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SK Telecom announced Monday it is once again venturing into the taxi hailing business, hoping to challenge dominant player Kakao T by integrating its app with upcoming products related to mobility.

“The global mobility market has been changing extremely rapidly,” said Yeo Ji-young, senior vice president of the total transportation service division at SK Telecom, at a press conference at the company building in central Seoul Monday. “If we leave the market untouched, we might face a crisis, we concluded. Although a little bit late, we have decided to challenge the mobility market again.”

T map taxi, named after the top mobile carrier’s navigation app, was initially launched by SK Telecom’s subsidiary SK Planet in April 2015, a month after Kakao unveiled its own service, Kakao T. During the three-year interim period, SK’s mobility-related operation was relocated to the transportation service division at SK Telecom, and Kakao T has emerged as the country’s most dominant taxi app with 5.8 million people using it every month.

The press conference announcing SK Telecom’s new plans for the T map taxi app came almost five months after SK Telecom overhauled the actual app. Yeo explained that internal situations at SK Telecom delayed the press event, which was originally scheduled for October.

Since the app was rereleased in June, the number of users per month grew from 20,000 to 100,000 as of the end of October. SK Telecom says it aims to see the number of users reach five million by the end of 2020.

SK Telecom’s move comes at a time when Kakao is under fire for starting to recruit drivers for a carpool service in October. It faced immediate protests from taxi drivers from across Korea and has been forced to tentatively delay the plan. An increasing number of users are complaining about the difficulty of getting a taxi through the Kakao T app.

Unlike Kakao, SK Telecom currently has no plan to charge fees on its app.

“We will decide [whether or not to charge] after seeing if the taxi apps can actually make money and can integrate with other innovative services,” Yeo said.

Asked why SK Telecom is trying to beef up the service, Yeo said it is just part of the journey to find the best business model in the mobility sector, given the potential of the market. The executive named a few features that set T map taxi apart from Kakao T.

One is the method of calling taxi drivers. On the back of a group of artificial intelligence (AI) experts at the AI center at SK Telecom and population data in certain areas using SK Telecom’s mobile base stations, T map taxi comprehensively analyzes the customer’s current location, distance from drivers and traffic situation to allocate a driver who can arrive within the shortest time span.

Kakao T, by comparison, simply assigns drivers who are closest without taking into account unexpected situations such as the extra time required to make a U-turn.

SK Telecom will soon be able to let drivers know locations where a large number of customers are most likely to be found in advance, through the use of big data analysis.

For SK Telecom’s mobile plan subscribers, T map taxi will offer a 10 percent discount worth up to 5,000 won ($4.45) on taxi fares until the end of December on the condition they opt for in-app payment with a registered credit card. On Nov. 21, which SK Telecom has designated as T Day, the discount rate will be 50 percent.

In consideration of taxi drivers who have to manage a number of devices - including phones running navigation services and taxi-hailing apps as well as their meter - while driving, SK Telecom plans to offer a taxi call reception button to 30,000 drivers for free. The mobile service said that the number of accidents caused by taxi drivers has increased 7.2 percent from 2015 to 34,646 in 2017. The button, attached to the handle, will stop drivers from having to reach out to touch their phone screens while driving.

Another safety-related feature of T map taxi allows users to send their current location, estimated time of arrival and the information of the taxi they are taking to their families or friends. Kakao T also offers a similar service.


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

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