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Uber Proposes New Registration System for South Korea Drivers

The ride-service provider seeks to overcome a ban on connecting passengers to private cars in Asia's fourth-largest economy.

Composite image by Re/code

Online ride-service provider Uber Technologies proposed on Wednesday a new registration system for its drivers in South Korea, seeking to overcome a ban on connecting passengers to private cars in Asia’s fourth-largest economy.

David Plouffe, Uber’s senior vice president of policy and strategy, told reporters in Seoul that the U.S.-based taxi startup wanted to work with regulators to find a way to operate legally in the country.

The proposed system would give legal commercial licenses for registered drivers, who would be subject to minimum requirements on experience and insurance as well as background checks for criminal records, he said.

The changes flagged for South Korea have already been implemented in cities such as London, Los Angeles and New York, Uber said, reflecting the company’s new conciliatory tone in response to mounting legal challenges and criticism of its aggressive business style.

“The solution that we seek with Seoul city, the ministry of transportation and the National Assembly is to find a solution that works for taxis, works for consumers and works for the overall Korean economy,” said Plouffe, former campaign manager for U.S. President Barack Obama.

A Seoul municipal official said Uber had not formally presented its proposal.

“We have no plans to discuss this proposal with Uber,” said the official, who declined to be identified.

Uber’s Korean proposal follows a similar move by the company in India, after it was banned from operating in New Delhi in response to rape allegations against one of its drivers. On Monday it said it had tightened background screening of its Indian drivers to include inspection of criminal court records.

Four-year-old Uber, which helps users summon taxi-like services on their smartphones, has drawn criticism around the world, even as it has continued to expand rapidly into more than 250 cities globally.

In Europe, where it offers a range of transport options from professional limousine services to informal ride-sharing, Uber has been hit with court injunctions in Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain for violating taxi licensing rules.

In December, South Korean prosecutors indicted Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and the company’s South Korean unit for violating transport rules, which require drivers and vehicles used in taxi services to be licensed.

In January, the city of Seoul started offering rewards of up to 1 million won ($929) for people who reported private or rented car drivers providing transport through Uber.

One of the world’s most highly valued venture-backed startups, worth at least $41 billion, Uber has faced regulatory scrutiny and court injunctions from its earliest days in San Francisco.

(By Se Young Lee; additional reporting by Sohee Kim; editing by Stephen Coates)

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