Up to tens of thousands of South Korean cab drivers have been protesting in Seoul for months against a ride-sharing service called Kakao T Carpool.
Cabbies said Kakao T Carpool, which would be a ride-sharing app similar to Uber, would undercut their standard of living. Top Korean tech firm Kakao already operates a ride-hailing app called Kakao Taxi, which allows users to connect to yellow cabs. Ride-sharing apps have been outlawed in Asia’s fourth-largest economy since 2015.
“My entire family is scraping a living on my tiny income,” a protesting driver, Lee Nam-soo, 67, told Reuters on December 20. Lee earns 80,000 won ($70) to 90,000 ($80) won a day. “There’s no way I can survive if Kakao operates.”
The protests have become deadly. On Thursday, a cab caught fire while parked in Central Seoul. The 64-year-old taxi driver in the car, only identified by his last name Lim, later died in the hospital, Yonhap News reported.
Police suspect that he set the car on fire in protest of the ride-sharing service, according to Yonhap. Officials from a taxi union said Lim left a four-page suicide note to his family that detailed the economic stress of being a taxi driver.
Lim is the second taxi driver to die by suspected self-immolation. Last month, a 57-year-old driver reportedly died by setting himself on fire in protest of the ride-sharing app. Protesting cab drivers have tied a black ribbon to their cars and are wearing black headbands to commemorate their colleague’s death.
In response to these protests, Kakao T Carpool has not yet launched. The company did not immediately return Business Insider’s request for comment.
“We will have continued consultations with the industry, parliament and the government,” Kakao said on Thursday, Reuters reported.
Read more: South Korea has the highest rate of deaths by suicide in the developed world — but a 2011 law helped decrease rates by 15%
Ride-sharing apps are banned in South Korea. Instead of Uber, most folks in the country use Kakao Taxi, which connects users to yellow cabs via app. Kakao also owns other popular apps and websites in the country, like Daum Search, messaging service KakaoTalk, and Daum Cafe, a Reddit-like forum.
Late last year, Kakao announced Kakao T Carpool. Taxi drivers took to the streets to protest the announcement.
South Korea has an extensive history of protest culture. Protests in the late 20th century throughout South Korea helped transform the country from a military dictatorship to a democracy.
And in 2016-7, protesters took to downtown Seoul every weekend for nearly six months to encourage the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye, who was sentenced to prison in 2018 on abuse-of-power charges. These marches were peaceful— even children participated.
These protests sometimes become violent, like when college student Lee Han-yeol was killed by a police tear-gas canister in 1987.
Suicides in protesting sometimes also appear, when protesters have attempted to underscore their outrage on topics like American military presence in Korea and labor rights. In 2015, an 80-year-old South Korean man set himself on fire outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul to protest the Japanese government’s response to soldiers’ use of Korean women as sex slaves in the 1930s and 40s. He survived.