Kakao’s carpooling initiative divides South Korea


Carpooling, a shared travel using private vehicles, is an increasingly popular trend to offset the shortage of taxis and reduce expenses of travel like fuel, parking fees, and car maintenance. With the precedent of the successful ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft in the United States, Kakao recently announced that it plans to launch a carpool service in South Korea during commuting hours by the end of the year. Though many South Korean citizens seem to welcome the new initiative, it has also led to great backlash from the enraged taxi industry and speculation for possible breaches of Korean transport laws.

“I believe that Kakao’s carpooling service would be an important addition in increasing the choices of transportation,” said Evelyn Hur (10), FBLA member. “With the disproportionately heavy dependence on taxis to carry out the functions of our everyday lives, taxi drivers are wielding greater power in choosing its own passengers and prioritizing long-distance rides over shorter ones to gain more profit from their taxi fares. This new app can address this supply and demand imbalance and establish cheaper rates of travel, all beneficial assets for Kakao’s users.”

According to the Korea Herald, 56 percent of 500 surveyed adults showed great approval for the carpooling app, most of them recalling the difficulties of catching a cab during rush hours in crowded areas of Seoul like Gangnam or Hongdae. However, not all people are content with the Kakao’s agenda. Claiming that they barely make sufficient income to sustain themselves in the status quo, taxi drivers are outraged by Kakao’s ride-sharing app potentially rendering the taxi industry obsolete and threatening their livelihoods. Supported by major taxi associations, 60,000 taxi drivers partook in a strike on Oct. 14th for 24 hours in Incheon and Gyeonggi, vowing to boycott all future ride requests placed via Kakao Taxi to cause major inconvenience and traffic issues.
“Monetarily, taxis will be taking a hit, and it is up to them to figure out how to keep their jobs,” said Megan Lee, high school English teacher and MUN supervisor. “Ridesharing is inherently cheaper in other countries and will likely be cheaper here. If anything, taxis will now need to look into the issue of refusing people, both foreigners and Korean citizens alike, and rethink their strategies, whether it be offering specials during lunch hours on weekdays or not refusing a customer because they don’t want to go that direction.”

The opposition of taxi drivers is not the only obstacle Kakao faces in the finalization of its carpooling app. According to Korea Joongang Daily, the South Korean government previously outlawed Uber and other car-sharing companies under Article 81 of the Passenger Transport Service Act which states that personal vehicles cannot be used for commercial purposes. The Seoul Metropolitan Government already investigated into carpooling startups like Poolus which was ultimately driven to bankruptcy and Modoo Shuttle, similarly threatened to be shut down by the strict legal enforcement of transport regulations. Kakao plans to overcome such legal hurdles by exploiting the loopholes of the law that make an exception for commute hours, reassuring the people that it would act within legal boundaries.

“I expect a continued disagreement between Kakao and taxi drivers regarding the exact commuting hours and when it is legally appropriate for Kakao to run its carpooling service,” said Bryan Hur (11), a MUN member. “There is always going to be some form of opposition from some group of dissatisfied people, but it important that we leave all of our possibilities open and embrace new technology and services. I believe that important assets like transportation especially demand innovation and greater consumer choices, even at the cost of some jobs in the short term.”