Tuesday, October 13, 2015

KakaoTaxi experience, revisited

This post includes some commentary on the KakaoTaxi service. These are just my personal opinions. I have no interest or stake in KakaoTaxi, and bear in mind I am no expert on taxi services or logistics or the Korean app ecosphere. I am just a man in Korea who occasionally uses KakaoTaxi. So please take all my thoughts with a grain of salt. They reflect my personality and are not an objective analysis of the service.

Tonight I came across a nice post over on Kojects, where Nikola talks about his experiences with KakaoTaxi, and gives a good description and opinion about the service, complete with lots of app screenshots. Readers know I'm a big fan of screenshots. The post gives you a good idea about how to use the service. Be sure to check it out. Anyway, the part that really got me was this:
The taxi driver in Ulsan said that he doesn’t see the destination when he receives the call. After he picked me up, then his phone showed him the destination [KakaoTaxi Revolutionizing Korea's Taxi Service - Kojects]

That is just crazy. And it also explains a lot about the complaints I have with the service.

You may remember my review of the KakaoTaxi service from a few months ago. After reading the Kojects piece, I felt like sharing my feelings about the service now, after having used it more. I don't take taxis every day, but I'd guess maybe once or twice a week. I actually prefer just going out to the street and hailing one the old fashioned way, manually. But if I'm in an unfamiliar or sparsely populated area, I'll whip out my trusty KakaoTaxi app. All in all, I've used the service maybe 20~30 times now. Here's what I've noticed.

Regarding the whole driver-doesn't-see-destination-until-fare-is-picked-up thing, I'm going to assume it is a well-intentioned move by Kakao to prevent discrimination from drivers. If they know beforehand where you want to go, and that destination is (1) too short a distance, or (2) not in an area they want to end up at, then sure, they'd just ignore the request and leave you high and dry. I've experienced that plenty of times with normal taxi use. At least if they've already driven out to you when you hail via KakaoTaxi, theoretically they'd be less likely to say "nah" if your destination turns out to be unfavorable to them.

Of course the flip side of this is that, when you hail a taxi, of course your current location is sent to the driver. Even after you hit submit to make the hail, it actually makes you reconfirm that the location is right. Of course sending your location to the driver is necessary. No one can argue with that. The problem though is that they don't have to respond. I've had a few experiences now where it brings up that screen saying "1... 2... 3... x number of drivers is in your area" but then the service shuts down, saying no cabs are available, please try again. In other words, the hail was successfully sent to x-number of nearby cabs, but none accepted. Admittedly, those times have been when I'm a fair ways out of town. But still, for a taxi hailing service, you expect it to be able to hail a taxi for you. Now I'm not faulting Kakao directly with this. The same happened even with the Call-taxi (콜택시) services before. Drivers just plain don't want to go too far out of their way. Luckily, there was only one time I can recall when no taxi would come and I had to wait 30 minutes for a bus. But several times I had to try hailing 3~4 times, spacing out the attempts by 5 minutes or so. Not ideal.

Since I'm in bitching mode apparently, here's another thing that grinds my gears. For some reason, 60% of the time I hail a taxi, the driver calls me on the phone just before he arrives. Again, I get the point of this. He's just trying to confirm which schmuck on the street I am. But that gets real old, real fast, when you combine a hot-tempered, bbali-bbali middle-aged driver with a honky with less than ideal Korean speaking ability. Sometimes I answer the phone and just get an immediate "WHERE AT?" blasted into my ear drums. Then I get the back-and-forth experience of trying to describe what's around me. Bear in mind, I made certain my exact GPS location was already sent to him. Look, I've got no problem with his phone call in a busy area, lots of people trying to grab cabs, and a certain GPS spot could be in a dense urban core. I get it. But this stuff happens even out by the golf course near the airport. Not a car in sight but for the cab on the road, and me and my partner near the course entrance. And the guy calls me wanting to know where we are. I can see his taxi about 20 meters away, no joke I see him on the phone. He is not looking around. He's looking straight forward driving slowly. I have to walk into his line of sight and point to my phone, and his taxi, a couple times, before he realizes I'm not some hobo, I'm his fare.

Am I annoyingly picky? Yeah maybe. But again, I think this is one of the limitations of the KakaoTaxi service. Ideally I'd like to see it better integrated with the drivers themselves. As I wrote before, KakaoTaxi is great as a middleman, but it doesn't go that last mile, and that's usually where customer service is weakest.

Other things, pretty much the same. Some drivers can't figure out how to use GPS navigation, or apparently how to use the KakaoTaxi Driver app, and want me to explain to them where to go. Or argue with me about how to get there. Or, no joke, try to convince me out of going to my destination. Look I'm a friendly guy, usually, but after a day at work, sometimes I like the faceless automation of an app like KakaoTaxi. I don't want "the human touch" in my transportation options. I like the subway because nobody talks. I can relax, read great blogs like Kojects or 10원 Tips, and rest.

KakaoTaxi is a great app, super simple, and saved my ass a few times. Like I said before, the problem, if I can call it a problem, is that it relies on the same old drivers, so once you actually step foot inside that cab, you're at the mercy of that driver. There's no Kakao to come rescue you. You can't just press his face like a phone screen and double-tap on where you want to go. You can't mute him, or his radio, or keep his eyes from wandering over to the girl you're with. But until KakaoBots* start driving cabs, I'll just put up with it**.

* No joke, I had a discussion with some coworkers about robots doing work like cleaning offices, driving cabs, collecting trash, and one guy goes "yeah but how will we handle sexual assault cases?" 
Robots sexual assaults. As if this crazy world didn't have enough to fear already. 

** I'm not anti-driver by the way. Most do their job respectably well. I think it's more an issue of me using taxis at weird times or weird locations, so perhaps I end up getting the more desperate ones, because the discomforting trips tend to happen less often by the old hand-wave hailing method. Then again, it's possible a driver who stops on the street for me is already predisposed to feeling cheery enough to pick up a foreigner. On KakaoTaxi, he wouldn't know, just as on the internet in general, no one knows you're a dog

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