Thursday, December 20, 2018

cabbie strike

Seoul cabbies are supposed to be striking today in response to the advent of a ride-share app from Kakao that promises to take away the cabbies' business. Cabbies already have a hard time earning enough money per month; they have to deal with high-stress traffic and frequently rude and bitchy passengers. The new app would siphon business from a market that, from the cabbies' view, is already tight and highly regulated.

The flip side is that riders often complain about being ignored by cabbies they try to flag down (a major problem for expats, especially in foreigner-heavy areas like Itaewon). Cabbies can also be rude and surly; I've heard many stories of cabbies who cheat naive customers by deliberately driving the long route. There are also stories of cabbies engaging in illegal carpooling, i.e., taking on extra riders who happen to be going the same route as the riders already in the cab. Finally, some cabbies are piss-poor drivers, either being accident-prone or causing traffic jams and other problems through their inept, jerky, weaving, pedal-pumping, brake-jamming style of driving.

To be clear, my overall experience with cabs in Seoul has been positive. I, too, occasionally get ignored by cabbies, but I know that this is sometimes because of shift changes and other reasons that aren't immediately obvious to potential customers. I've ridden with my share of rude drivers, but their rudeness has generally taken the form of remarks about my weight or questions that pry a little too much. I'm trying to remember whether I've ever been in a fender-bender while inside a cab, and the fact that I'm having difficulty recalling such an incident indicates that that hasn't been an issue.

That said, I can't discount other foreigners' testimony about their negative experiences with Seoul cabbies. I think 90% of those problems can be eliminated simply by being able to speak some Korean, and problems often arise from misunderstandings plus the human willingness to assume the worst when it comes to strangers. But that doesn't make the foreigners' bad experiences any less bad or less legitimate.

So when I consider my own cab-riding experience and try to square it with others' experiences, my sympathy for cabbies is there, but it's limited. While I'm generally okay with using cabs (frankly, I use them more often than I should), others have reported problems that can't be dismissed. I think there's a reason why the public feels a need for a ride-sharing app, and that reason probably has something to do with dissatisfaction with the status quo. Until cabbies buckle down and improve the quality of their services, apps like this ride-share program will be only the tip of the iceberg.

Final note: a cabbie told me last night that today would be devoted to a cabbies' strike, but I saw quite a few cabs plying the streets while I was en route to work this morning. Go figure.


John Mac said...

Taxi drivers and inept pedestrians on the sidewalks were my two biggest gripes in over a decade of living in Korea. So I reckon I had it pretty damn good.

One cab incident stood out in a positive way though. I wrote about it here:

motorrad said...

I've generally had good experiences with cabbies. Sure, they really don't want a 5000 won fare from Itaewon to the Hilton at 1am so it might take a few tries to get someone willing to take you. And I've had my share of the foreigner route when I knew the short way. But both of those are easier to deal with as my Korean has improved. My big complaint is the propensity to go 160kph any time the road is clear for 500 meters. I'm O negative so I won't last long if I'm in a serious accident.