Seoul says Uber ride-sharing is illegal before it's even started

South Korea's capital city says it will arrest drivers on the spot if the UberX service, currently in a free testing phase, becomes fully operational.

Sa Youn Hwang
Sa Youn(Sy) loves technology. He still remembers his high school science fair entry, where his poorly designed robot caught fire in front of hundreds of people. Since then, he has been honing his proficiency in all things tech-related since with a flammable vengeance. Currently a graduate student at Seoul National University, Sy likes to spend his spare time reading tech blogs, tweaking audio equipment, and writing music.
Sa Youn Hwang
2 min read


Between having its own drivers go on strike in New York and a German court lifting a ban on its ride-sharing service, Uber's global expansion has been a bumpy ride. The ride-sharing service's push into Asia is proving to be equally tumultuous, with the South Korean capital Seoul promising to take stern action against Uber if it launches the UberX service there.

So far, Uber has offered Seoulites a service similar to its original Uber Black, a premium luxury limo service with licensed chauffeurs, acting as a liaison between customers and local limo services. This service has been met with strong opposition from city officials, however, over insurance concerns and the disruption of local taxi services.

The company's UberX service, on the other hand, is the service most people think of as Uber: a low-cost option that allows any driver to use their private vehicle to provide taxi services. It's currently in the testing phase in Seoul and is free of charge to all users.

Korea's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (MLIT) has instructed the city of Seoul to clamp down on all UberX services when it comes out of its testing phase and becomes fully operational as a paid service.

The MLIT is taking stern measures on the grounds that UberX's illegality is inarguable, and thus calls for immediate action. Seoul is even prepared to have officials use the ride-sharing app pretending to be customers to apprehend drivers on the spot. The city will also put a reward system in place for citizens who report such activities.

The MLIT has deemed UberX unlawful because the service does not have the licensing and certification needed to provide taxi services in Korea. Any car owner with a valid driver's license and 25 minutes to spare to register and watch an instructional video can become an Uber driver. By contrast, a Seoul taxi license, which can be bought or sold "under the table" in Korea, can cost up to 80 million won, according to local media (roughly $77,000, £47,000 or AU$89,000).

"When UberX becomes a paid service, it will become punishable in accordance with the Passenger Transport Service Act. As soon as testing phases are over, our dedicated squad will begin clamping down on Uber drivers," said a spokesperson for the city government.

According to the country's Passenger Transport Service Act, using a private car to provide taxi services to the public is punishable by two years of imprisonment or a fine of 20 million won (around $20,000, £12,o00 or AU$22,000).