Uber Korea, the local unit of ride-booking app creator Uber Technologies Inc., said on Feb. 25 that it will start offering free rides to customers in Seoul. This move is a countermeasure agasinst the Seoul city government's ban on its business in Korea.
The controversial online taxi-booking service seemingly changed its policy. It has asked the Korean government to help local Uber drivers become legal by providing a licensing system. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport rejected Uber's proposal on Feb. 6, pointing to the government policy that aims to scale down the number of operating taxis.
Uber’s impossible mission to comply with Korean law made a breakthrough, and it has been quite effective so far. The company said that the purpose of this free offer is to reduce the negative impact on its drivers and their partners and to protect them from an anti-ridesharing ordinance by the city.
California-based Uber currently operates in over 290 cities around the world. It was launched in Seoul in 2013 starting with its premium limousine service UberBlack, followed by UberTaxi and UberX. The Korean government has been acting in defense of national taxi drivers. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and the head of Uber Korea have both been indicted by the prosecution on charges of violating transportation law. To top it all off, last month the Korea Communications Commission referred Uber to the prosecution for flouting the law that requires registration for location-tracking functions. Furthermore, Seoul city government is running a reward program for those who report Uber drivers or cars.
A spokeswoman for Uber Korea said the free fare for UberX will be available for some time, but it wasn't decided for how long the free service will continue. There is much attention towards the development of the challenge and response.