Cabbies, carpool firms still locked in confrontation

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Cabbies, carpool firms still locked in confrontation

A fourth taxi driver set himself on fire to oppose the adoption of new carpooling services after protests started in December of last year, and taxi drivers, the government and carpool companies still haven’t found a solution to the contentious issue.

A 76-year-old taxi driver set himself on fire at around 3:19 a.m. Wednesday near Seoul Plaza in central Seoul. He was taken to a hospital where he later died.

The man, surnamed Ahn, is believed to have burned himself to protest the adoption of carpooling services given that he reportedly put signs expressing opposition to carpooling on his taxi.

After more taxi drivers resort to extreme methods of protest, an organization comprised of the government, ruling party and taxi companies was created to find a compromise. After 45 days of discussions, the taxi and carpool companies finally reached an agreement on March 7.

In their agreement, carpooling hours were limited to 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., weekends and national holidays excluded. For the taxi industry, parties agreed to reduce the number of taxi drivers with advanced age and implement a monthly salary for taxi drivers. Not all parts of the agreement were carried out accordingly.

“After announcing that a social agreement was made, we haven’t had a working session, not one,” said Kang Shin-pyo, the leader of the National Taxi Labor Union, in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo. In the agreement, there was a section where parties agreed to create an organization for discussion between the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and the companies.

The National Assembly has not made much progress either. The Land Infrastructure and Transport Committee held a subcommittee meeting to examine the bill on March 27, but could not reach a conclusion due to objections from the opposition Liberty Korea Party. The discussion is currently suspended.

With follow-up measures facing slow progress, the conflict between the taxi industry and the carpooling industry is spreading to ride-hailing services like Tada. Tada offers ride-hailing services through 11-passenger vans instead of sedans. Korea’s transportation law allows rental cars with a capacity of 11 to 15 seats to be legally leased with a driver. Yet the taxi industry argues that the law, originally created to promote sightseeing, is being abused by the ride-hailing service. The Seoul Private Taxi Association accused Tada of being an illegal service in February. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport is waiting for the results of the prosecution’s investigation into Tada.

“We think the business is within the current passenger law, so it doesn’t seem to be illegal,” said an official of the Transport Ministry. “We will make a decision according to the investigation report.”

“The taxi industry is talking to us about matters related to Tada, but this problem hasn’t been discussed before,” said Yoon Kwan-seok, a lawmaker from the DP. “The important thing right now is quickly making a law according to the social agreement reached on March 7.”

A rally of around 10,000 members of the Seoul Private Taxi Association is calling for Tada to be banned was held in front of Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul on Wednesday. Police put the number of protesters at around 3,000.

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