Taxi Drivers: Worse With Age?

I’ve been taking taxis around Seoul, Korea all week. This may be a mistaken generalization, but the younger drivers have all been

efficient — seem to know where they are going, get there quickly, and let me out. This is advantageous for them, as (so my former taxi-driver brother tells me) a cabbie makes the best money on the “drop” — the initial fixed amount, which is almost $2 here.

The older cabbies wander around, don’t seem to know the city, and have an amazing ability to get stuck in traffic jams. I wonder if this difference is because of the rapid growth of education here. Younger people are much better educated than their elders.

Perhaps the general education — the human capital embodied in younger people — raises their productivity, even in something like taxi driving which seems so remote from what one learns in school.




Perhaps the time spent waiting for a "drop" is so long that the older, more experienced taxi drivers know that they can make more money taking a long time getting the passenger to their destination and, therefore, racking up more yen.


I'm somewhat in agreement with some of the points of #3

Remembering the way around the city is effort-consuming. It takes mental effort to actually drive around.

Instead, if you are just s tuck in traffic, you aren't doing much - you get paid to sit there. Perhaps they realized that they couldn't compete well with younger generation in terms of being efficient so they are doing their own "niche" thing?

Being a South Korean immigrant, I remember foreigners not being common even in Seoul 7 years ago. Back then, the whole "laid back" style was still in place as well, although changes were beginning to occur.


Did you check if the drivers had navigation in their cars? I lived in korea for 2 years (2005-2007), and the majority of cars did have navigation. Also, i know that some of the navigation systems are in real-time (same with GPS navigation phones), which shows congestion and best routes. There are probably is a correlation with navigation systems and age.

foreign fare

16-Platinum, thanks for the explanation. I assumed there was a legitimate purpose for the button and didn't intend to allege a conspiracy, per se, but it is certainly a trick of the trade for increasing cab fares on the unsuspecting.


I've spent time in Seoul, and after a night on the town, I've heard many warnings against passing out in a taxi, because the drivers WILL take advantage of that by circling around and running up the meter to a ridiculous degree.

So perhaps maximizing the number of "drops" is not always the profit-maximizing behavior. Maybe the young ones have yet to learn that.


Yen? Really?


Maybe the older cabbies lost their jobs they developed skills for, and are now being forced to learn a new trade.


Maybe the traffic has got worse over time. Older drivers are to some extent using older skills appropriate to a lower level of traffic.

Maybe younger people are sharper.

Maybe younger people grew up in a faster world and like doing things faster.

Andrew Laurence

Response to Eric (#1): Why would drivers in South Korea expect to be paid in Japanese currency? The currency of South Korea is the won.


Perhaps, standards for cabbies were different when they 'came up in the game', so to say. Perhaps, 30 years ago, being right on time wasn't as important culturally, and cabbies could be more laid back. Perhaps traffic wasn't as much of an issue, so it didn't matter which way you went. Perhaps they weren't trained to the level they are today (i've heard training to b a London cabbie to be particularly intense) and are 'grandfathered' into their role.

Other ideas - the urge to make more and more money fades with age, in my estimation. Maybe the older drivers are happier to to take home a modest, steady amount each day, rather than looking to max out each day.

Or, it could just be random luck with your experiences.


There are so many lurking variables in this, I find it hard to place much confidence in this being due to education

G Pendergast

Perhaps there are more 1st generation drivers among the older cabbies. I ahve noted that the drivers i Mexico City are much better than when I first went there 25 years ago. Younger drivers stand on the tools that they learned from the first generation.


A $2 drop would be low by San Francisco, Oakland or New York standards. In fact, I can't remember the last time I took a cab anywhere that the drop was less than $2.


I agree with #3. Younger drivers are probably more open to finding faster routes while older drivers are more stuck in their ways.

Other factors which may contribute to the disparity:

All Korean cabs have GPS. Maybe younger drivers are more likely to rely on GPS information while older drivers are more likely to rely on faulty experience.

Destinations in Korea are landmarks, not streets (though streets can be landmarks). Maybe younger drivers are more familiar with the city's popular landmarks.

Younger Korean drivers grew up with subways which allowed them to travel to more places more often.


After living in Korea for 22 of the past 30 years I would like to add my 2 cents to this conversation. First of all, there is nothing laid back about taxis in Seoul, traffic is thick and aggressive. If you have not experienced it, nothing more can be said!

About 10 years ago a Korean friend of mine took an early retirement buy-out/package from his company. He was a mid-level supervisory engineer and work on many large construction projects both at home and abroad. Upon his early retirement (about age 50) he bought a taxi began working as an independent taxi driver. I asked him if his early retirement affected his financial situation that seriously to require him to become a taxi driver. His response was interesting to me; he stated that he did not need the money, but that staying at home and not working would drive him crazy. By being an independent taxi driver he could work when he felt like it and take as much time off as he wanted.

So for this “older” taxi driver, it was not about income, but it more of something to do. I think that it is reasonable to assume that there are more people like him driving the streets of Seoul. If money is not the motivator then it would be reasonable to assume that they would prefer the simple long hauls as opposed to the quick up and drop off 2,000 Won fares. The younger person without a financial cushion would be more apt to be aggressive in getting the quick money.

I am not saying this all drivers would fit into one of these two situations, but something to consider.


martin Henner

Maybe it is just that the younger drivers who are sharp and on the ball eventually get more education, better jobs, etc. leaving the dullards behiind driving taxis. By removing the brighter ones from the pool as it ages, you get a result where the older it gets, the dumber it gets.

foreign fare

The idea that the cabbies are keying the "drop" makes quite a bit of sense in light of the breakneck driving style I've experienced in Seoul. In some instances (particularly when bars/clubs are closing) drivers regularly turn down fares they consider too far, preferring to rack up a bunch of short ones during the rush. It can be nearly impossible to get a cab across town at certain hours.

While you're examining Seoul cabs, though, you would be remiss to not mention the dual-speed meter. The cabbie hits a button to switch back and forth between two rates. For foreigners, the meter runs faster, calculating a higher fare. Sounds like a missed opportunity for Freak-o-nomics analysis to me...


#13 (foreign fare) With a standard taxi there are two fares in the city of Seoul, one for 0400-2400 and a 20% higher fare from 2400-0400. The metering of the ride is based upon both time and distance; the basic fare is 1,900Won for the first 2Km and 100Won for each additional 144m, if the taxi is moving at a speed of less than 15Km per hour due to traffic an addition charge of 100won for every 35 seconds is added. (Mobeom or deluxe taxis charge more, but operate on the same principle)

Most meters can be set to display either the distance or the time, this can be a source of confusion for most people when it is set to distance and the meter is rolling over and the taxi is not moving due to congestion.

While there are no doubt a few less-than-honest taxi drivers out there, there is no mass conspiracy to bilk foreigners in the manner you allege. Most scams come from the getting lost routine or excessive charges to and from the airports.



I've noticed in Chicago that previous to this summer cabbies were always in a hurry to get you to your location because the distance seemed to be where the money was. This summer though I have found more and more cabbies "finding traffic" and throwing it in nuetral while they sit there. I assume this has to do with gas prices and racking up time is now more profitable than miles.


"Being a South Korean immigrant, I remember foreigners not being common even in Seoul 7 years ago."

I assume you aren't counting foreigners in uniform? I seem to recall quite a few of us all over Seoul during that time period.