Uber to relaunch premium taxi service in South Korea as regulators ease restrictions

Ride-sharing app Uber said on Wednesday (Nov 11) it would relaunch its premium taxi-hailing service in South Korea.
Ride-sharing app Uber said on Wednesday (Nov 11) it would relaunch its premium taxi-hailing service in South Korea.PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (AFP) - Ride-sharing app Uber said on Wednesday (Nov 11) it would relaunch its premium taxi-hailing service in South Korea as regulators eased restrictions that had limited the firm's growth in Asia's fourth-largest economy.

The UberBLACK service resumes later this year in the capital Seoul, the company said in a statement, after the city council allowed more taxi drivers to offer premium services.

The previous UberBLACK service could only work with limousine companies, which mainly served the elderly, the disabled and foreign tourists.

The regulatory change will allow the firm to work with ordinary taxi drivers hoping to offer high-end services to the general public, the company said.

"We're very excited to now be able to offer UberBLACK to everyone in Seoul," Mr Calvin Kang, general manager of Uber Korea, said in the statement.

Uber Korea started services in 2013 but immediately ran into legal trouble, with taxi drivers protesting what they saw as a threat to their livelihood and senior executives probed for potential violations of transport laws.

The company in March folded its Uber X service, which connects passengers with private drivers with no taxi license, in the face of growing investigations into the company and its executives.

Since then it only offered UberTaxi, linking passengers and licensed taxi drivers, and the upscale UberBLACK service.

"This relaunch comes after many months of dialogue and collaboration with drivers... and other local parties to better understand local needs and requirements and how we can best serve Seoul and its residents," Mr Kang said.

The relaunch comes as the US firm faces steep competition against local rivals including Kakao Black made by the South's top messenger app provider Kakao.

Kakao Black started operation involving some 200 taxi drivers on Nov 3.