Uber Continues Asia Expansion With Seoul Test Runs

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Uber has begun testing its taxi calling app in Seoul, the startup’s second stop in Asia.

Uber has been promoting its app and premium car service in South Korea since the beginning of May, right after it started looking for a community manager and operations manager in Seoul. The San Francisco-based company kicked off its Asia expansion with the start of its Singapore trials in January.

Uber launched its testing phase in trendy Gangnam district with its first celebrity passenger, footballer and Olympic medalist Koo Ja-cheol. The company will spend the next few weeks testing out its operations in South Korea’s capital with a limited fleet of cars.

Uber’s site says that customers can expect to seat up to four people in either a high-end sedan or SUV. As expected for a premium car service, the company’s fares are pricey, with base fare starting at 6,000 KRW, more than twice the 2,400 KRW taxis in Seoul usually charge. The per kilometer rate is 1,700 KRW, compared to 1,100 KRW for most Seoul taxis.

Despite the company’s legal troubles in the U.S., where it’s been issued cease-and-desist letters in California and Boston, sued in Chicago and faced disputes with the D.C. taxi commission, Uber has had a relatively controversy-free start in Singapore, where taxis are often hard to book during rush hour. It faces a highly competitive marketplace in Seoul, however, where many taxi drivers are struggling to make a living wage due to the rising cost of fuel. Last year, more than 200,000 taxi drivers gathered in Seoul to ask the central government to change its policy and allow drivers to receive benefits. While Singapore cab fares are set by operators, Seoul’s taxi rates are set by the government and the starting fare of 2,400 KRW has not changed since 2009.