Pacific edition, Sunday, June 17, 2007

YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Taking a taxi anywhere on Yongsan Garrison soon will cost no more than $3, but fares for rides that go off base will not be capped under a plan beginning June 25.

Fares also will be computed in U.S. dollars instead of Korean won, according to the plan.

Taxi fares will start at $2.50, and increase 25 cents for every quarter-kilometer (250 meters) after the first 1.75 kilometers.

The changes were made after soldiers complained about fluctuating taxi prices and paying fares in won, said Ron Daugherty, Army and Air Force Exchange Service general manager at Yongsan.

“Having a fare capped at $3, they can budget better,” he said. “It makes it an easier trip for customers and taxi drivers.”

The meter will continue running during on-base trips, even though customers only will have to pay up to $3.

Of the 2,000 taxi rides taken at Yongsan each day, a little more than half go off base, Daugherty said.

When asked if the new fare rates will benefit or hurt soldiers who take taxis off Yongsan, Daugherty said “time will tell.”

“I know that soldiers are very smart, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they stand and wait outside of the gates if they want to catch a (South Korean) taxi,” he said.

Taxi fares now start at 2,000 won ($2.20) for the first 1.66 kilometers or five minutes. The charge increases 250 won (27 cents) every additional 365 meters or 90 seconds.

World Cup Arirang Tourism Company Ltd. provides all taxi service in Areas I and II, but AAFES officials said Friday they are talking with another taxi company about providing service.

“We are in heated discussions, really close to doing something but it’s not finished,” said AAFES spokesman Donovan Potter. “We’re not ready to talk about it. We really hope that it will happen soon, but it’s not happening at this point.”

AAFES has made other fare adjustments in recent months, including calculating fares in won and charging a 1,000 won ($1.10) fee to customers who asked to be picked up at a certain location. AAFES dropped that charge after customers complained.

Ahn Jong-in, executive director of the Arirang taxi company, said AAFES began talking about switching back to a dollar-based system in April, one month after it switched to the won-based system.

He doesn’t know how he feels about the June 25 fare changes, he said, and the company will monitor customer reaction to the changes.

But he predicted his drivers will be happy because they’ve been dealing with customers who complained about paying their fares in won as well as the won-U.S. dollar exchange rate.

The new contract with Arirang allows AAFES to adjust taxi fares every three months, based on the average won-dollar exchange rate — meaning there could be some adjustment in the distance the taxi travels for the 25-cent increments.

The new fare rates got mixed reviews from soldiers on Friday, with many saying the capped fares should also apply to off-base trips.

“I’m pretty mad,” said Spc. Eric Guerrero, who lives off base and remembers when fares started at $1.50, back in 2004.

Staff Sgt. Dawod Porter said some soldiers will catch taxis outside one gate, then ride outside Yongsan’s perimeter to another gate rather than take a more expensive taxi across base. He said the $3 cap is a good idea, but he lives off base and will continue to walk home.

“If I had any other means of transportation — even a mule — I’d use that instead of hailing a taxi,” he said.

Hwang Hae-rym as contributed to this report.

Taxi fares

On-base trip capped at $3

While World Cup Arirang Tourism Company Ltd. is contracted through AAFES to provide taxi service to all military camps in Areas I and II — basically bases in Seoul and areas north of the capital — the new price policy affects only Area II. And the new $3 price cap affects only taxi rides on Yongsan Garrison, including Camp Coiner.

CURRENT FARES: 2,000 ($2.20) won for the first 1.66 kilometers or five minutes. Increases 250 won (about 27 cent) every additional 365 meters or 90 seconds.(Note: based on a 908 won-to-the-dollar conversion rate)

PLANNED FARES: $2.50 for the first 1.75 kilometers or five minutes. Increases 25 cents for each additional 250 meters or 60 seconds.

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