Seoul Tourist Taxis Prove a Resounding Flop
Tourist taxis launched by the Seoul Metropolitan Government nine years ago to provide visitors with quality transport are likely go out of service because they are too expensive and losing money.
The taxis have been used by fewer than one percent of tourists since 2009. The city government has pumped a whopping W8.64 billion in subsidies into the service over the last nine years (US$1=W1,070).
The city kicked off the project by recruiting drivers who spoke some English, Japanese and Chinese and proved it by sitting a written and oral test.
But their flat fare works out about 20 percent higher than regular metered taxis, with a trip from Incheon International Airport to downtown Seoul costing W55,000 to W75,000 (US$1=W1,070). The city government at the time thought that foreigners would still prefer them because of the flat rate but has been proved disastrously wrong.
Tourists are giving the exclusive hire desks at Incheon and Gimpo airports a wide berth and heading straight to the regular taxis, airport subway or airport bus.
The project also seemed attractive cab drivers, who were licking their lips for the higher fare on long trips, and at its peak their number surged from the initial 265 to 390. Now 372 remain.
In sheer numbers, use of the service nearly tripled from 35,951 passengers in 2009 to 94,159 in 2016. But per taxi that works out at fewer than one passenger a day and just 0.7 percent of the 13.57 million foreigners who visited Seoul last year.
In a 2016 survey by the Korea Transport Institute, 70 percent of foreign travelers said they were satisfied with the subway, so they have no reason to use the expensive taxis.
The city has gradually reduced subsidies for the taxis, from W1.4 billion in 2009 to W520 million this year. Next year it stops completely and the drivers are on their own.
There has also been some cheating. "Taxi drivers have failed to make accurate reports on passengers even though they earn more from regular customers," a city official said. "We've decided to end the project because profitability is falling."
The drivers are up in arms, so the city is considering handing the tourist taxis over to a private operator.