Seoul tries more methods to get taxis out at night
To solve the post-pandemic taxi shortage, Seoul is scrapping its three-shift system for privately-owned taxis for the first time in 45 years.
The capital is also adding three new late-night bus routes and extending bus services by an hour.
On Tuesday, the Seoul Metropolitan Government announced a comprehensive plan to tackle the lack of transport options at night ahead of the year-end season. The new measures will go into effect Thursday.
Seoul’s aim is to have 27,000 taxis rolling in the city between 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. The daily average of late-night taxis in Seoul since April has been 20,056, which is 80 percent the daily average of 26,566 cabs in December 2019, or before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
To achieve this goal, Seoul is completely lifting the three-shift for private taxi drivers starting Thursday through the end of this year. It will decide whether to continue later.
Under the three-shift system, private cabs in Seoul had to take every third day off. Mandatory off-days were introduced in 1978 for safety, vehicle maintenance, and prevention of overwork.
For taxi companies, the city announced it will try to get more people driving by holding a job fair this month and offering subsidies to newly-hired drivers and re-employed drivers.
The city expected that a total of 7,000 cabs will be added to the roads, including 5,000 privately-owned taxis and another 2,000 taxis owned by companies by increasing the number of drivers at night.
Starting December, the window for higher late-night taxi fares will be expanded from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. from the current midnight to 4 a.m.
The basic taxi flag fall from 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. will increase by 40 percent. During the remainder of the late-night time frame, the fares will increase by 20 percent compared to normal operating hours.
From Feb. 1 next year, the basic taxi flag fall in Seoul will be raised to 4,800 won ($3.34), up 1,000 won from the current rate. The so-called basic distance, or distance traveled before the fare increases, will be decreased to 1.6 kilometers (0.99 miles) from the current 2 kilometers.
In response to expected criticism over higher fares, the city government argued that Seoul’s taxis at night will be cheaper or similar to other cities in the world. Higher late night taxi fares in New York, London and Tokyo start from 8 p.m. or 10 p.m., while in Paris they are between 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., according to the Seoul Metropolitan Government. For a 6 kilometers-distance at late night, taxis in London charge 28,700 won, while Seoul taxis are expected to charge 10,730 won.
Seoul is also increasing its nighttime buses, including the Owl Bus.
From Dec. 1, a total of 37 buses will be added.
A total of 88 city bus routes stopping at major downtown areas such as Gangnam, Hongdae, and Yeongdeungpo, will temporarily extend their services to 1 a.m. from Dec. 15 to 31. With such measures, the city government believes buses can handle 8,000 more passengers.
However, questions are being raised about the city’s plans.
Seoul temporarily lifted the three-shift system for private taxis in April, but the increase in taxis was only 1,208 per day on average.
Taxi-hailing applications that show a passenger’s desired destination — which allows drivers to refuse fares they don’t want — is still a problem to be solved.
“When a passenger calls a taxi for free through the platforms, the destination is exposed to the driver,” Baek Ho, head of the department of city traffic at the Seoul Metropolitan Government, told a press briefing on Tuesday. “That is a system that allows taxi drivers to pick passengers who go longer distances in order to get higher fares.”
Baek added, “We are constantly asking the Ministry of Transport for the destination to be hidden.”
To make matters worse, the labor unions of Seoul Metro, the operator of the Seoul subway system, are threatening to go on a general strike starting Nov. 30, which would only make nighttime transport services more chaotic.
BY SEO JI-EUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]