It's a war out there for taxis, and apps are making things worse
Gyeonggi is getting to grips with a late-night taxi shortage that followed the lifting of the Covid-19 business curfew.
On Monday, the provincial government said it sent a letter to its cities and counties requesting the lifting of operating restrictions on taxis to put more on the streets. Private taxis mostly have a three-shift system and corporate-owned taxis a ten-shift system, although they vary depending on the city or county. Under the three-shift system, for instance, private cabs take every third day off.
“After distancing measures were lifted, demand for taxis late at night when public transport is cut off has soared, but there is a shortage of available taxis due to the reduced number of drivers from the prolonged pandemic,” the provincial government explained.
Out of a total of 37,852 registered taxis in Gyeonggi, 4,522, or 12 percent are subject to shift systems.
The city of Yangju lifted the shift system for 392 taxis on May 11, followed by Gwangmyeong, which lifted its for 846 taxis on May 20.
On the other hand, Suwon decided to change the night shift time of drivers from midnight to 5 a.m. to add more taxis during late at night.
The cities of Uijeongbu, Bucheon, Uiwang are also reviewing lifting taxi restrictions, Gyeonggi added.
The provincial government said it will continue consultations with cities and counties.
Given that many taxi drivers switched to parcel or food deliveries during the pandemic, other measures are being discussed such as holding job fairs to bring in more drivers.
Hailing taxis has become more difficult for another reason: some taxis use macro programs to select which fares they want to take, squeezing out less lucrative fares.
Hwang In-cheol, 32, an office worker, tried to get a taxi through an app after finishing dinner last Friday, but repeatedly got messages saying no taxis were available.
“It was absurd to hear that all taxis were reserved,” said Hwang. “Maybe it was because I was going a short distance of about 10 kilometers.”
Taxi drivers use a macro app called Jijigi to choose fares that suit their taste.
Taxi hailing apps such as Kakao T work on a first-come, first-serve basis. The Jijigi app intercepts the calls made on Kakao T and lets drivers pick calls from specific destinations and for specific distances.
The macro apps aren't cheap. To use one such app, drivers pay an initial subscription fee of 500,000 won plus 60,000 won to 100,000 won per month.
But they're worth it. “If you use macro apps, your income grows by more than 1,000,000 won a month,” said Mr. Lee, a taxi driver in his 40s. “I can get fares to the destination I want, so it’s easy to get off work, too.”
“Honest drivers are being made into fools,” said Mr. Jung, 51, an honest driver who drives a taxi for the Kakao T Blue service. “They should block all macro apps from Kakao.”
The problem is that it is not easy to block macro programs from using taxi apps. Kakao Mobility, which manages Kakao T, is of the position that it regulates the use of macro apps through real-time monitoring.
“The macro apps themselves are not illegal, but we are taking legal action against those who have caused inconvenience to customers,” said an official from Kakao Mobility. “We are also putting restrictions on drivers in three stages: advance warning, dispatching restrictions and permanent suspension.”
BY SEO JI-EUN, LIM JEONG-WON [firstname.lastname@example.org]