Seoul's Transport System Gains Recognition

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Seoul's Transport System Gains Recognition

Jul 11, 2005

Seoul Mayor Lee Myoung-bak, left, shakes hands with Hans Rat, secretary general of the International Association of Public Transport (UITP), after receiving a certificate of recognition for the city's successful introduction of a new mass transit system, at the Lotte Hotel in central Seoul, Friday. The award ceremony was held during the International Forum on the Public Transportation Reform. Yonhap
Seoul City's new mass transit system has scored a positive assessment from the public as well as international experts since its introduction in July last year.

"Seoul is one of the rare cities to have implemented transit reform in such a short period of time and at so many different levels. The city has done a remarkable job in integrating innovative technologies and new infrastructure," Hans Rat, secretary general of the International Association of Public Transport (UITP), told The Korea Times yesterday.

Rat is leading a UITP delegation that arrived in Seoul Wednesday to conduct an on-site inspection of the city's new transportation system.

The UITP presented the Seoul metropolitan government with a certificate of recognition for the city's success in developing the new transit system.

Founded in 1885, the UITP is an international association of urban and regional passenger transport operators and suppliers. The group has over 2,000 members from 80 countries.

The metropolitan government in July last year implemented Seoul's new transportation system. Policymakers hoped that the renovation could encourage more people to use mass transit and ease traffic congestion.

The changes were focused mostly on strengthening bus services, which had been a declining segment in transportation, with the city constructing new bus networks and more bus-only lines.

The city also introduced an electronic fare-collecting system that covered both bus and subway networks. The smart card-based system was intended to enhance the ease of payment for passengers while allowing operators to increase revenue through distance-based fare.

The city has gained several benefits by the changes. The new system provides for better integration between transportation capacities and demand, which helped improve traffic conditions. The new system also increased the revenue of bus operators through the integrated fare system, reducing the operators' reliance on government subsidies.

According to Seoul City officials, the city's buses and subways are now carrying about 9.76 million passengers per day, more than a 5.2 percent increase from last year. The Seoul Metropolitan Government recently reached agreements with authorities from Beijing, China and Istanbul, Turkey to share advancements in public transportation operations.

However, critics point out that Seoul must find ways to strengthen the integration between transport modes and rationalizing operations costs. UITP's Rat pointed out that Seoul must create better coordination between public transport modes and car traffic and also work to improve services in suburban areas.

Identifying additional financing sources to support the new transportation system is also a major concern. According to Jo Dong-jin, a lawmaker at the Democratic Labor Party, Korean bus operators are expected to lose a combined 220 billion won this year through its operations, compared to a loss of 97.2 billion won in 2003.

The financial difficulties forced Seoul to cut 29 bus lanes this year, according to city officials.

"The new system has forced citizens to spend more on public transportation but did little to improve the business for operators overall," said Jo.

Critics are recommending Seoul find alternative financing sources, such as increasing the implementation of road-use pricing and congestion charging, while gradually reducing the expenses of the government.

There are also widespread complaints that the new bus stops, now located in the middle of the road to improve traffic flow, are putting passengers in inconvenient spots where they are forced to wait in long lines while being exposed to automobile exhaust.

"The time spent in getting off the bus to get on another one or to cross the road from the islands in the middle of the road seemed a little long for me. Seoul could partly adjust this problem by altering traffic signals," said Rat.


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