South Korea rejects Uber proposal for driver registration system

South Korean taxi drivers and taxi industry officials hold a rally in downtown Seoul, South Korea, on Feb 4, 2015, demanding that web-based taxi company Uber withdraw from the South Korean market. -- PHOTO: EPA
South Korean taxi drivers and taxi industry officials hold a rally in downtown Seoul, South Korea, on Feb 4, 2015, demanding that web-based taxi company Uber withdraw from the South Korean market. -- PHOTO: EPA

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korea rejected Thursday a proposal by the web-based taxi firm Uber to legalise its business by registering its drivers, and vowed further crackdowns on the company and its services.  

Uber started in South Korea in 2013, sparking angry protests from local taxi drivers and lawsuits by municipal and central officials.  

On Wednesday, Uber’s senior vice president David Plouffe offered to register its drivers and provide their navigation data if Seoul put its operations on a legal footing.  “Korea should be the last country that decides to stand in the way of innovation,” he told reporters in Seoul.  

The South’s transport ministry called the proposal “unacceptable", and one that would only intensify competition and threaten the livelihood of many taxi drivers.  “The fact that the company vowed to continue their operations ... in a clear breach of laws means they are ignoring our legal system,” the ministry said in a statement.  

The authorities will continue their “strong crackdown” on Uber drivers, and ask prosecutors to further probe the company if more cases are found, it added.  In December, South Korean prosecutors indicted Uber’s American founder and CEO Travis Kalanick and the firm’s Korean partner for operating an illegal cab service.  

The authorities in Seoul offered a one million won (S$1,237) reward for those who report cars offering rides through the Uber service. Seoul’s telecom watchdog further upped the ante last month, ruling that Uber Korea had failed to report its business and receive official permission before providing its location tracking services.  

Uber is the most prominent of several smartphone apps that are shaking up the traditional taxi landscape in cities around the world.  But it faces significant resistance from taxi drivers and regulators in a number of countries, who accused it of unfair competition and a lack of standards and sought to shut it down.