Kakao’s carpooling app goes live in beta test

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Kakao’s carpooling app goes live in beta test

Kakao’s carpooling service was introduced Friday for beta testing and will be officially rolled out Dec. 17.

The start of the service comes after months of battling fierce opposition from local taxi services. They staged a strike on Oct. 18, two days after the IT company started accepting applications from carpool drivers.

With the beta service, the Kakao T mobile app, a platform for all of Kakao’s mobility services from taxi hailing to navigation, was upgraded to enable the “Carpool” button on its main screen. The beta service will not be accessible to everybody.

“The beta service is aimed at increasing the stability of the technology and collecting opinions,” Kakao said in a statement. “For that reason, it will only be offered to some users.”

The selection of testers will be random and independent of age and location. Anyone upgrading the Kakao T app Friday will see the new “Carpool” button, but only the selected users will be able to input words in the destination box. Those who weren’t selected will see an image with the words “This service will launch soon.”

The base fare is set at 3,000 won ($2.68) for the first 2 kilometers (1.24 miles), the same as for regular taxis. After that point, the fare will increase proportional to the driving time and distance. The company did not disclose details, but a spokesman said the cost will be equivalent to around 70 to 80 percent of regular taxi fares.

Kakao’s carpool drivers are allowed to offer carpooling services twice a day at any time of the day. The twice-a-day rule is due to the domestic law that limits carpooling to commuting purposes. More than 50,000 drivers who met Kakao’s requirements have been selected so far.

A government-led task force composed of lawmakers from the ruling Democratic Party, public officials and taxi companies met Friday to discuss carpooling. Executives from Kakao Mobility, the affiliate in charge of the IT company’s transportation services, decided to launch the same day,

Kakao acquired the Luxi carpooling app in February and completed preparations for its service later in the year.

The official launch was postponed previously as the task force failed to reach an agreement on the service’s details, including the fare and limits on use. During a task force meeting held Thursday, some government officials opposed Kakao’s request to release the service that same day, demanding more time to find common ground.

Korea has been a difficult place for carpooling. Uber closed down its service in 2014, and Seoul’s local government questioned the legality of carpooling app Poolus in 2017.

BY SONG KYOUNG-SON [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]
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