The Korea Herald


[Survive & Thrive] Hailing and riding a taxi

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : May 28, 2023 - 16:00

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Kakao is not just the name of the mobile messenger that almost all South Koreans use. It is a Korean substitute for the US’ Uber or Southeast Asia’s Grab.

KakaoT, operated by the messenger app company, is by far the most widely used app to hail a taxi, although there are smaller competitors.

One of the advantages of using the apps, especially for tourists, is that they significantly reduce the likelihood of being overcharged or taken advantage of by drivers. These apps track the routes, automatically calculate fares, and provide transparent pricing, leaving little room for drivers to exploit the situation.

Unlike Uber, KakaoT only connects users with registered taxis. Compared to most other countries, Korean taxis are very affordable, although locals may complain about how fast the fares have gone up.

According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport in October last year, before a major fare hike in February, the Korean taxi fare was equivalent to only 38 percent of the average of other members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The basic fares differ, depending on municipalities, but range between a low of 3,300 won ($2.4) in provincial cities and a high of 4,800 won in Seoul.

The nation’s capital is also the only place in South Korea where taxis charge additional fees after the first 1.6 kilometers, not 2 kilometers like the rest of the nation.

The fares also differ depending on the time of the day. There is an additional charge for nighttime operation: in case of Seoul, it costs 20 percent more when you take a cab between 10 p.m., and 11 p.m., 40 percent more between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. the next day, and 20 percent more between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m.

There is also an added charge when travelling to another region. For example, a Seoul taxi travelling to another city or province can apply a 20 percent surcharge. It's 30 percent for taxis in cities like Incheon, Busan and Daejeon. South Korean law bans taxis from refusing a customer, but this does not apply for passengers who want to travel to another province or metropolitan city.

The aforementioned fares are applied for standard taxis -- including the blue taxis that run on electricity. But South Korea also has deluxe taxis that cost more.

Basic fares for mobeom (deluxe) taxi and daegyeong (jumbo) taxi -- both of which have identical fare systems -- range from 4,200 won in North Jeolla Province to 7,000 won in Seoul. Not only do they have more expensive basic fares, their distance-based fares also cost twice as much as standard cabs.

They are easy to distinguish as they are black. Compared to standard taxis that use mid-sized sedans, deluxe taxis use larger, more luxurious cars, while the jumbo taxis use vans. Keep in mind that the jumbo cab is different from call vans, fares for which have to be negotiated with the driver.

For those having difficulty using taxi, South Korea currently operates a 1330 call service to provide interpretation for tourists, in Korean, English, Japanese and Chinese.

Survive & Thrive is a series offering a guide to living in South Korea for people from outside of the country. – Ed.