Kakao postpones carpooling service

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Kakao postpones carpooling service

Kakao Mobility announced Thursday that it would postpone the official launch of its carpooling service after a week of fierce protests from the local taxi industry.

The Kakao affiliate started offering a beta version of the service last Friday that was made available to a randomly selected pool of users nationwide. On the same day, it declared that the official launch date of its carpooling service would be on Dec. 17.

“After much consideration, we decided to postpone the official launch in order to listen and apply a wider range of opinions from taxi drivers, users and many others,” Kakao said in an official statement Thursday afternoon.

But it did not specify when the official launch will be delayed until. The statement sparked rumors that this may be the start of Kakao indefinitely postponing the service’s official release, which the company denied.

“What we know for now is that it’s not going to happen this year,” said a Kakao spokesperson. “But this doesn’t mean the delay is going to be an indefinite one. The exact date is still a matter of discussion.”

The beta service will continue to be offered to random users selected regardless of age and region. Kakao explained that the beta service was being offered to a very limited pool of users, just enough to examine the technology and check the effect it may have on taxi drivers.

The announcement comes six days after the beta service and the official launch date were released.

The backlash from taxi drivers has been fierce, with widespread protests that culminated in a 57-year-old taxi driver setting himself on fire in front of the National Assembly in western Seoul on Monday.

Two days later, a committee that consists of two taxi company associations and two taxi driver labor unions announced plans to stage a protest in Seoul on Dec. 20, with more than 100,000 people expected to attend. This would be the third protest targeted at putting a stop to carpooling services.

Regardless of Kakao’s decision to postpone the launch, a source from the committee said there is no change to the plans for the protest.

Taxi drivers also launched a sleep-in protest in front of the National Assembly starting from Wednesday, with members of the four organizations continuing their vigil in shifts through the night.

Kakao, the local taxi industry and government officials have been in talks for more than half a year, but are still failing to agree on a solution to the carpooling service issue.

Kakao wants to introduce a carpooling service during busy commuting hours, but drivers say that even if rides are limited to twice a day, they will still eat up around 59 percent of all taxi demand.

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