Thursday, June 21, 2012

Road Deaths Plummet Following National Taxi Strike

The number of people killed on South Korea's roads plummeted yesterday after the nation's taxi drivers called a 24-hour strike to protest low taxi fares, loneliness, and the high price of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), which many of the drivers prefer to soju.

It's estimated that 86.3% of the country's taxi drivers joined the strike, with the others said to be too hung over to realize what day it was. In the afternoon, up to 30,000 taxi drivers converged for a protest in front of Seoul City Hall, although the ones who normally cater to tourists arrived late after circling the city several times first.

Drivers' unions says that because the numbers of taxis on the streets and in the subways has risen substantially over the last few years, it is difficult for drivers to always find customers and incomes have been squeezed, so fares must rise. Compounding the income problem, the union also said that rising fares were causing more people to take buses, and fares had to rise to offset this loss of income. Fares also needed to rise because with fewer customers, drivers were feeling lonely.

Some drivers are said to be earning as little as one million won a month ($867), although this can be offset by large bonus payments for picking up and recording drunk politicians late at night near the National Assembly Building with women they aren't related to.

Taxi companies are hoping that if fares are allowed to rise drivers with less questionable backgrounds might be attracted to the job - enlarging the pool of candidates from ex-convicts such as rapists and murderers to other criminals such as disgraced politicians and foreigners.

Despite some inconvenience, the strike was popular with many Seoul residents, who welcomed the opportunity to use the crosswalks in safety. Some were hoping the strike might eventually extend to the nation's motorbike riders, so that the sidewalks would be safe too. Hospitals also reported that admissions due to accidents dropped 41% and those due to air sickness dropped as much as 62%.

But the elderly were not as enthusiastic about the strike, even including those who don't work as taxi drivers. 67 year-old Kim said she had endured a difficult day as she normally spends her time traveling across Seoul pursuing her hobby of taxi queue-jumping, but because of the strike she had to spend her time in the subway instead.

To cope with the strike, Korea's transport ministry said more buses were run and subway operations were extended by one hour in Seoul and Busan, 30 minutes in Daegu, and 2 minutes in Gwangju.

Related Links
Nationwide Taxi Strike Gets Underway
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Drunk taxi drivers responsible for 988 car accidents in 2010
SKorea: Sex criminals easily become taxi drivers
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Seoul City to Improve Taxi Service
Taxi drivers are becoming lonely
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Scary society prompts young women to prefer older cabbies
SKorea: Taxi driver sticks his car where the sun don't shine

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