South Korea’s Kakao Mobility has come to an agreement with taxi unions that will allow the car-sharing service to operate daily during a four-hour period on weekdays according to Reuters.
The service will be available during commuting hours between 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and will not operate on public holidays.
The agreement comes after several months of meetings between Kakao Mobility, the government, and the powerful taxi union which argued that the service was a threat to their livelihoods.
We also have a learning point that our service was not satisfying enough for customers, said a taxi union spokesperson.
The mobility unit of Kakao Corp, which operates the most popular chat app in the country, KakaoTalk, first proposed launching the car-sharing service last year. Shortly after the announcement, the taxi union launched protests across the country including a December shutdown of cabs for a day as thousands of drivers took to the street.
Over the course of the protests two taxi drivers died after setting themselves on fire. The first was a 57-year-old driver who set himself ablaze in front of the National Assembly on Dec. 10. A month later, a 64-year-old man also killed himself by self-mmolation according to Korea Bizwire.
In February a taxi driver set himself on fire in his cab but survived. Police said they found what appeared to be a suicide note in the cab denouncing the ride-sharing service.
To address the social unrest the government formed a task-force to find common ground between Kakao Corp. and the taxi union which eventually bore fruit this week.
What’s Next for Ride-Sharing Apps?
Whether Kakao Mobility will eventually be permitted to run at all hours remains to be seen. For now, the compromise is a step forward following initial calls from the taxi union for a complete ban on car-sharing services that are widely available in most of the world.
“We had internal discussions, and some of us thought that we should resolve an ongoing social conflict although this fight was about our livelihood,” said Lee Yong-bok of the Korea National Joint Conference of Taxi Association in an interview with Reuters.
A recent survey by Realmeter found that about 60 percent of Koreans support the car-sharing service said Reuters. With increasing support for alternatives, Lee acknowledged that the taxi union must take measures to make its offering more appealing to the market.
“We also have a learning point that our service was not satisfying enough for customers,” Lee said.
The newly-reached agreement is additionally being viewed as a step forward for startups in South Korea that struggle to reach profitability in the face of stiff regulations and the objections of powerful unions in the country.
Ride-Sharing Protests Widespread
Taxi drivers in countries across the globe have at times violently opposed the growth of ride-sharing apps. Last year in Indonesia, taxi drivers were reported to have repeatedly threatened, attacked, and harassed ride-sharing drivers.
In Bali, the protest has been driven by anti-foreigner tropes.
“They know that Grab and Uber are owned by foreigners,” a Bali Drivers Alliance chairman Ketut Wirta said at a demonstration in January of last year. “Why should we make foreigners richer?”
Kate Alvarez, a Philippines-based journalist, described in a blog post how a group of taxi drivers followed her around in Bali while she waited for an Uber driver to pick her up. She said that eventually she hid in a cafe and canceled the ride.
She then called a private driver who had previously given her his number. When he arrived, the taxi drivers interrogated him, said Alvarez.
In January 2,000 Spanish taxi drivers gathered in Madrid to block roads in protest of ride-sharing companies like Uber. Riot police and tow trucks were sent to clear the roads.