Seoul prides itself on having one of the most convenient and affordable public transportation systems in the world. But after midnight, especially on weekends, its shortcomings come to light. The transportation options dwindle with the passing hours as subways and most buses stop running, and often cabs end up as the only option for getting home.
But anyone who’s tried to hail a cab past midnight has probably been rejected at least once. Kakao Taxi, South Korea’s leading cab-hailing app, may be aggravating the problem.
Technically, it’s illegal for cab drivers in South Korea to refuse a customer. But the law is hard to enforce; rejections have always been a common practice.
According to Liberty Korea Party lawmaker Kim Seong-tae, reported ride refusals in Seoul rose to 180 cases in 2016, compared to 57 cases the previous year when Kakao Taxi was launched. This year, close to 180 cases have already been reported by August.
Currently, over 88 percent of South Korea’s 250,000 licensed cab drivers are registered under Kakao Taxi. Uber tried to establish itself in the South Korean market, but is now close to dying out after the National Assembly banned its core car-sharing service in early 2015, citing security and other concerns. In Mar. 2015, shortly after Uber was outlawed in South Korea, Kakao Taxi launched and has dominated the market with little competition.
How does the app enable drivers to refuse their customers? Drivers using Kakao Taxi can choose passengers depending on desired destinations. In some cases, even though the app doesn’t let drivers to turn down the requests they have already accepted, drivers ask passengers, who can cancel the request, to do so by calling.
Cab drivers refusing customers, when reported, can be fined and even have their license suspended or cancelled. First-time offenders pay a fine of 200,000 won (roughly $180). Second time around, the driver gets slapped with 400,000 won ($360) and has his or her license suspended for 30 days. If caught for the third time in a two year span, a driver will have to pay 600,000 won ($540) and face license cancellation.
On Oct. 17, a parliamentary hearing was held to discuss Kakao Taxi perpetuating the problem of ride refusals. Baek Jae-Hyun, a Minjoo Party lawmaker, pointed out that refusals from drivers using Kakao Taxi have sometimes led to scuffles between drivers and passengers.
“The problem addressed by the [National Assembly hearing] is fundamentally about supply and demand not meeting in certain areas at certain time slots, namely past midnight. So we’d need to find a long-term, fundamental solution,” said Yoon Seung-jae, a communications manager from Kakao Group, saying that the company is cooperating with Seoul Metropolitan Government. He did not elaborate on what the “fundamental solution” would entail.