Kim Kil-jun, a taxi driver for 22 years, thought his taxi-hailing app was like a business partner, something that helped him get more fares, but now he feels like the platform has turned on him and become a powerful competitor in South Korea's growing mobility market.
The app's operator, Kakao Mobility Corp., began a limited version of its carpooling service last Friday to work out technological details and reflect on various opinions ahead of its launch down the road.
Many South Korean taxi drivers have relied on Kakao's app -- which shows incoming ride requests -- to pick up passengers, but some of them later quit the app and have become vocal opponents of Kakao's carpooling service on the grounds that their livelihoods are at stake.
The case illustrates the escalating tug of war over South Korea's mobility market between technology-driven mobility companies and taxi drivers.
"I felt a sense of having been betrayed (by Kakao)," the 64-year-old said on a recent evening in downtown Seoul. "It's like giving cookies to a kid and then taking them away."
The drivers' growing sense of desperation was evident earlier this week when a 57-year-old taxi driver died by self-immolation inside his car near the parliament in Seoul in protest of carpooling services.
"I hope that (taxi drivers) will fight until carpooling is thwarted," the driver wrote in a suicide note.
Kakao had planned to begin its formal carpooling service on Monday, but has decided to delay the launch of the service to better reflect on opinions from various stakeholders.
For many ordinary passengers, carpooling services represent a mobility innovation in a country where it's not easy to grab a taxi in busy commercial areas, especially at night.
In some cases, passengers are allowed to hop in taxis only after taxi drivers agree to their destinations through short chats over a lowered window. (Yonhap)