Tax driver dies in hospital after apparent self-immolation near U.S. embassy

Lim Chang-won Reporter Posted : 2019-01-10 08:55 Updated : 2019-01-10 08:55
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A taxi is engulfed in flame after an apparent self-immolation attempt by its driver near the U.S. embassy. [Yonhap News Photo]

SEOUL -- A taxi driver was pronounced dead in a hospital after he set himself ablaze in his car in protest at a ride-sharing service pushed by South Korea's web service giant Kakao. It was the second self-immolation in the taxi industry in a month.

Police said Thursday that a 64-year-old driver identified by his surname Lim died in an intensive care unit, about 12 hours after he was rushed to a hospital for treatment of serious burns. He apparently set himself ablaze at 6:00 p.m. Wednesday in his taxi near the heavily guarded U.S. embassy in central Seoul. 

An association of taxi drivers said Lim had sent a prior notice to colleagues about his self-immolation. On December 10, a 57-year-old taxi driver immolated himself by dousing his body with inflammable liquid in his car near a parliamentary building.

The ride-hailing service, Kakao T Carpool, was to be launched on December 17, but Kakao put it off to negotiate with taxi unions. Carpooling during commuting hours is legal, but taxi drivers insist Kakao's ride-sharing service would fan an illegally paid service by private cars. An October survey conducted by Seoul-based pollster Realmeter showed that 56 percent of citizens supported carpooling services.
Taxi drivers have endured low income, excessive work and poor working conditions. Government data showed that there are about 269,800 taxis, including 80,800 in Seoul. Taxi drivers in Seoul work for an average of 12 hours a day and earn about 2.15 million won ($1,911) a month.

Uber introduced a car-sharing service in Seoul in 2013 but suspended it two years later due to strong protests by taxi drivers. The American company came back with its premium taxi service, Uber Black, in Seoul in 2016.