People wait for taxis on the roadside at night around Gangnam Station, Seoul. (Yonhap)
The Seoul Metropolitan Government on Wednesday announced new measures to increase the number of late-night taxis to cope with a worsening cab shortage, after the government lifted social distancing rules last month.
The city plans to add around 3,000 taxis that run from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m., 2,700 of which will be operated by independent drivers, and another 300 from Seoul-based taxi firms.
To secure more late-night taxi drivers, authorities have announced a raft of changes to existing rules, such as temporarily extending the operating hours of late-night taxi drivers to between 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. Previously, they could only operate from 9 p.m.
They will also be able to operate seven days a week, including Sundays, which was not allowed previously. Independent taxi drivers, who could only switch from being on day shifts to night shifts once a month, can now swap schedules at any time.
The city government expects the change in rules to boost taxi driver numbers, attracting those who are hoping to make some extra cash by running services at night.
Independent late-night taxi drivers will be able to make an additional 1.5 million won ($1,186) a month, under the extended operating hours, the city government estimated.
Seoul City expects to secure the additional 2,700 late-night taxis by Friday next week.
The extra reinforcements would help bring the total taxis available between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. to around 25,000, which would be enough to cover the current demand, officials said.
The taxi shortage has been exacerbated as the government lifted nearly all COVID-19 social distancing rules last month. An outburst in late-night gatherings sparked an upsurge in demand for taxi rides as Seoul Metro halts operations of subway trains at midnight and late-night buses run at long intervals.
The local taxi industry, which has taken a hit over the last two years because of COVID-19, has struggled to keep up with the high demand.
The city government said the combined number of drivers working at Seoul-based taxi firms decreased by 33.7 percent to 20,640 in March, from 31,130 in January 2019.
To solve the shortage, the Seoul city government first stepped in last month, temporarily lifting operating restrictions on privately owned taxis under which drivers were required to take every third day off.
By Shim Woo-hyun (email@example.com