Seoul City announced plans Wednesday to crack down on call vans illegally picking up tourists and overcharging them.
Seoul Metropolitan Government said is patrolling tourist destinations and has set up several ways for tourists to report overcharging.
The issue has taken the media by storm, with one call van driver reported has having charged Japanese tourists 330,000 won ($293) for a 2 kilometer ride that should have cost roughly 4,500 won.
As of Feb. 10 there were 329 posts on Yahoo Japan's site, complaining about overcharging for fares, food and other items.
âLast year, it cost us 45,000 won from Dongdaemun to Myeong-dong. It was a black taxi that had a meter and looked like a deluxe taxi. Only after we told him we would âcall 112' did he accept 5,000 won,â said one post by a Japanese tourist.
With such issues seeming to be a commonplace among foreigners visiting the capital, officials are worried that the incidents could affect tourism ahead of the peak season in April and May.
Seoul officials have now placed 48 officials at four popular locations frequented by Asian tourists in downtown Seoul, which are Myeong-dong, Jongno, Dongdaemun and Euljiro. Since February, city officials have caught 22 call vans illegally operating.
Call vans are legally banned from having âtaxiâ stickers, âtaxiâ roof signs or meters, and are not allowed to carry only passengers. Call vans may be used to carry both passengers and cargo of at least 20 kilograms.
The city has also set up numerous methods to report overcharging, including a designated email firstname.lastname@example.org where foreigners can send a photo of the call van's license plate. Tourists may send the email in English, Japanese and Chinese.
The city has posted ways to distinguish between the different taxis on tourist sites and is also looking to include such information in popular tourist guidebooks.
Officials are also negotiating with the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs to strengthen the maximum punishment from a 60-day suspension and 600,000 won fine to a termination of business license.
However, critics say the measures drawn up by the capital are years too late are simply an excuse to calm the media and do not address the root of the problem itself.
âIt is true that it was always an issue and we were always regulating call vans, but not only until recently were we able to devote more to the issue,â said a Seoul City official.
âThe problem is only caused by a small portion of the drivers,â said one call van driver.
âWe would love it if the government had call vans encompassed into the same category as taxis and regulated us as such, making meters mandatory,â said the Seoul driver.
The driver added that the increased media attention has not reduced the number of patrons.
In just Seoul and the surrounding areas, there are 2,163 registered call vans.