CNET también está disponible en español.

Ir a español

Don't show this again

HolidayBuyer's Guide
Mobile

Uber makes move to operate legally in South Korea

The car-hailing service's proposal would see drivers get commercial licenses, requiring them to have minimum amounts of experience and insurance.

South Korea has large middle and upper classes that could prove to be valuable customers, and car-hailing service Uber is looking to set up shop there legally. Uber

After getting hit with illegality charges in South Korea and facing ever-increasing scrutiny there, ride-hailing service Uber has offered a proposal to make its service legal in the country.

Uber has proposed that all its drivers in South Korea obtain a commercial license, requiring them to have insurance and a minimum amount of experience on the road, the company's senior vice president of policy and strategy, David Plouffe, told reporters in Seoul on Wednesday, according to Reuters. Uber has yet to officially propose the solution to the Seoul government.

The proposal to alleviate the strained relationship between Seoul and Uber stands in stark contrast to the thumbing-of-the-nose routine Uber has engaged in with South Korean officials over the last several months.

Uber started testing its service in Seoul last year. Beforehand, South Korean officials warned the company that it would be operating illegally if it went ahead. When Uber started its trial anyway, Seoul said it would have law-enforcement officials pretend to be riders, and arrest drivers operating through Uber.

In December, Uber officially launched its service in Seoul, saying that while the company knew it was facing criticism, the issue was mainly because of its service being "a new concept."

"According to a third-party survey, 90 percent of our customers support our service. 95 percent of our users also responded that they already have or intend to recommend the service to family and friends," Uber said of its service in Seoul.

Just weeks after the official launch, prosecutors in Seoul charged the company with violating public-transportation law. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick was specifically cited in the indictment, and if found guilty, could face up to two years in prison or pay a fine of 20 million won (a little over $18,000).

The same day, Seoul announced a rewards program that would pay people more than $900 to tattle on Uber drivers and users.

Uber is certainly no stranger to outcry over its service. Around the world, a glut of cities and countries -- including New Delhi, India; Portland, Ore.; and Spain -- have called Uber illegal. Over the last few months alone, Uber has faced increased scrutiny over its methods for doing business, and the company has been hit hard after two drivers -- one in New Delhi and another in Boston -- were charged with sexually assaulting passengers.

Uber, which is available in 250 cities around the world, has argued that it continues to operate within the law. The company says it works with local governments wherever possible to ensure its services fit within legal constraints. The company has also criticized taxi consortia in cities around the world for presiding over the ride-sharing business in an effort to safeguard their businesses.

Still, Uber is starting to soften its stance. Last month, the company announced that it would apply for a taxi fleet license in New Delhi. The move would effectively make Uber a taxi company -- rather than the tech firm it's long defined itself as -- and suggests that in other cities around the world Uber could concede its position and apply for new licenses if the right pressure were applied.

South Korea represents an important opportunity for Uber. Seoul is one of the richest cities in Asia and South Korea has large middle and upper classes that could prove to be valuable customers. The car -hailing service's proposal for commercial licensing could signal its desire to end the long-fought battle with Seoul and simply get its cars on the road without fear of reprisal.

Uber did not immediately respond to a request for comment.