Uber’s coming back with taxi-hailing app

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Uber’s coming back with taxi-hailing app

Four years after shutting down its car-sharing service in Korea, Uber is aiming for a comeback with a new taxi-hailing app, Uber Taxi.

The company is already operating a taxi-hailing app in Korea called Uber Black, but the service uses licensed taxi drivers hired under Uber, making it more like a taxi-operating company rather than a platform provider.

Uber Taxi, however, matches users to regular taxis. The service is already live, but until now, it has operated with barely any promotion and just a small number of partnered cabs in limited locations.

Uber’s announcement on Tuesday that the service is being expanded signals that the company will start making more aggressive moves to market Uber Taxi, explained the company’s spokesman.

“Uber runs safe and legal services using the latest technology - we’re glad to be able to offer diverse means of transportation with the expansion of Uber Taxi,” said Brandon Son, the head of Uber Korea’s mobility business.

“As a mobility platform, Uber will continue offering advanced mobility services through increasing cooperation with local partners.”

Uber Taxi will initially be available in Seoul. Plans to widen the service to regions outside the capital were not disclosed.

The service will match users and nearby cabs. Fares will be decided by the taxi’s existing meter machine. Based on the descriptions, the service sounds largely similar to Kakao Mobility’s Kakao Taxi.

“What’s meaningful about Uber Taxi is that functions and technology developed in UberX will be employed to the cab-hailing service,” said an Uber spokesperson.

A big advantage Uber puts forward is that the app automatically allocates cabs that are in the optimal location to arrive at the user’s location earlier than others.

Drivers will not receive any form of information on the user’s destination before arrival, but only guidance on the road. The company highlighted this can prevent the possibility of drivers avoiding customers that are only going short distances. During the ride, users will be able to check their location on the route Uber provides to cab drivers.

Kakao Taxi, at the moment, provides users’ destinations and lets drivers choose whether to accept the request - a system that some drivers take advantage of to only select long-distance customers. Another mobility service Waygo Blue, a taxi-hailing app backed by Kakao, allocates the nearest cab without rejection but adds a 3,000 won ($2.60) as a fee.

An UberX function that will be offered on the taxi-hailing app is the in-app chat through which the driver and user can exchange calls without exposing their personal numbers.

For safety, the app also has an alert button accessible to both parties that can send an immediate call to the police. It’s also possible to allow as many as five people to view the user’s immediate location.

The service’s expansion comes in a very different mobility landscape to when the UberX service was deemed illegal by the Transport Ministry and the Seoul city government in 2014. Within a year of operation, Uber had to halt the ride hailing service.

But recently, there have been small breakthroughs regarding mobility services that prove public awareness is higher and the government’s stance is relatively more lenient than back then.

Following massive protests from taxi drivers and a months-long conflict, Kakao Mobility and the local taxi industry reached an agreement on its carpooling service last month, which will be offered with time limits. Some government officials and lawmakers were present to mediate between the two parties in the discussions.

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