South Korea Startup Offers Night Shift Ride-Sharing Minibus Service

Seoul-based Callbus officially launched two months ago, after a bumpy process fighting government red tape and powerful taxi unions. Since then, the app-linked bus service has taken about 10,000 passengers home after hours, founder Steve Park told Quartz, and attracted several investors including the government and an angel investor.

Getting a taxi home at night is an ordeal in Seoul. The subway doesn’t run overnight and many taxi drivers are picky about which passengers they take, often refusing to go short distances. Tales abound of drivers who set artificially high prices at night. It’s a particularly pertinent problem where drinking is a huge part of the culture.

After multiple setbacks while trying to set up his ridesharing business, Park found a gray area amid the red tape that also placated the politically powerful taxi drivers’ union. An initial plan to use private buses rented by Callbus was rebuffed by the union, which mobilized drivers to stage demonstrations ahead of parliamentary elections. But taxi drivers agreed to let the company rent their own vehicles.

After negotiations with the union and the government, Callbus was allowed to operate only between 11pm and 4am, and only if it used vehicles and drivers that belonged to the taxi companies. The government is also an early-stage investor in the company.

Callbus operates similarly to services like UberPool. Customers enter their current location in an app and their destination, then head to a designated pick-up point, joining other passengers headed in a similar direction. Like Uber or Lyft, the app is linked to a credit card, and Callbus receives a fee for each transaction. Park said that prices are about 30% cheaper than a taxi ride, and that about 10,000 people have used the service in the past two months.

Callbus currently has 20 vehicles in its fleet, including Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai 12-seater vans, and operates every day except Sunday. Because of Seoul’s vast size, it only picks up in the glitzy district of Gangnam right now, and drops off in nine districts of Seoul.

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