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Taxi app, AI translation in metro added to Seoul tourist services

Dec. 4, 2023 - 18:22 By Lee Jung-joo
A promotional image for Taba, a taxi-hailing app released by the city of Seoul on Friday, is designed for tourists. (Seoul Metropolitan Government)

The Seoul Metropolitan Government on Monday announced two new services for foreign tourists: a taxi-hailing app and real-time translation services in subway stations.

The city government has launched Taba, a taxi-hailing service specifically designed for overseas visitors to the city. The new app is expected to resolve limitations in existing domestic taxi-hailing apps, making it easier for tourists to request taxis with their phones.

Existing taxi-hailing services require authentication to occur only through domestic mobile operators using a Korean mobile number. In-app payments are also only available for domestically issued credit cards, making them nearly impossible for those with overseas mobile numbers and credit cards to use, the city government said.

With Taba, users can create an account by authenticating their personal information with a phone number from their home country and make in-app payments with credit cards issued overseas. The city government stated that users will be able to link their social media and email accounts to make a Taba account by the end of the year.

Promotional images for Taba, a taxi-hailing app released by the city of Seoul on Friday, are designed for tourists. (Seoul Metropolitan Government)

Taba also offers multilingual services so that users do not have to type in their preferred destinations in Korean. Once users enter their preferred destination in the language of their choice, they can preview and choose between the recommended, shortest and toll-free routes and view the estimated fare by choosing the type of taxi they wish to use, according to the city government.

Taba provides 24/7 customer support for non-Korean speakers powered by Globaleur, the startup that is working with the city government to develop the app. It is currently available in English, simplified and traditional Chinese, Japanese and Thai -- with other languages like Vietnamese, Indonesian and Russian to be added around the first half of 2024.

Another Taba feature that differentiates it from domestic taxi-hailing apps is that it introduces and briefly describes 200 major tourist attractions in Seoul to help tourists move around conveniently. Users can view popular tourists destinations through a tab on the app and press the “Go Here Now” button.

Taba is available via both the Apple and Google app stores. For first-time users, the app offers a 5 percent discount on the first ride.

A tourist uses a real-time interactive translation service screen at Line No. 4's Myeongdong Station in central Seoul. (Seoul Metro)

Seoul Metro has also started to provide real-time, interactive translation services through artificial intelligence-powered screens at Line No. 4’s Myeongdong Station.

Through this translation service, tourists can receive assistance about the subway station and how to get to tourist attractions near it. The service utilizes a translation engine powered by artificial intelligence and voice-to-text conversion technology, displaying translated text on a transparent screen.

The translation service screen provides additional services, such as searching for routes and fare information, as well as information about luggage storage lockers available for use at the station.

Translation is available from Korean into 12 languages: English, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Malay, Indonesian, Arabic, Spanish, French, German and Russian. It will run as a pilot project for four months at Myeongdong Station. It is to be expanded to Seoul Station, Itaewon Station, Gimpo International Airport Station, Gwanghwamun Station and Hongik University Station in April 2024.

“With the newest real-time, interactive translation services, we expect tourists of foreign nationality visiting Seoul to receive information more conveniently,” said Baek Ho, CEO of Seoul Metro, the main operator of Seoul's subway system.

“We are actively and continuously utilizing AI to provide better services for Seoul Metro users. We will provide these services in conjunction with mobile devices to further enhance convenience and usability to increase foreign national tourists’ satisfaction," Baek said.