Tag Archive | "public transit"

Building the Seoul Metro System, Part 3: Silicon

By Rachel Kirsch 

The Seoul Metropolitan Subway is often considered one of the best in the world. From trains that routinely arrive on time to cars enabled with Wi-Fi, the Seoul metro provides riders with a positive experience and short travel times. This near-optimal metro system was not built by accident. It was the result of Seoul’s focus on three distinct aspects of the public transportation system. This is the final piece in a three-part series focusing on the development of the Seoul metro system. Please see Part 1: Steel and Part 2: Plastic.

After the reforms in 2004, Seoul built a public transportation system that covered a large breadth of the city while remaining affordable and convenient. But Seoul refused to stop bettering the system. Most recent developments have focused on further integrating technology into the system and enhancing ways that the metro can meet the needs of the people.

The Addition of Technology to the System

Following the success of the T-Money Card, the Seoul government began adding more technological advancements to improve the quality of the metro system. One of the most noticeable upgrades was the installation of digital screens both in the stations and on the trains. On the platform, the screens share a plethora of useful information with riders such as the real-time location of the next train. Meanwhile, inside the car, screens provide information on the upcoming stop as well as play a variety of different shows to entertain riders.

In 2009, automatic doors separating the platform from the tracks were added to every station. The principal benefit of these doors is safety. Since the doors only open when the train arrives, passengers are much safer around the track, and the government reported that these doors have reduced suicides on the tracks by 62%. Additionally, the doors cut noise pollution in the stations by 7.9% and lowered heating and air conditioning costs.

To further digitize the system, transit authorities worked to ensure internet-accessibility underground. In 2010, the Seoul government began equipping its train cars with Wi-Fi, allowing passengers to use their phones and access the internet while underground. The internet also improved the system when Seoul Metro introduced an app allowing riders to receive updates without being physically present in a station. The app helps travelers plan their routes, gives real-time train locations, and alerts riders of any notification regarding line delays or changes.

Safety and Sustainability

The city has also worked to revitalize the pre-existing infrastructure. For example, Seoul has gained renown for its user-friendly maps and signs. Numbered exit signs from the station, for instance, help riders easily identify the path they need to take to leave the station and reach their final destination. Companies have also worked diligently to make the system accessible to foreigners. Instructions at kiosk stations are available in Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and English, signs throughout the station have Romanized versions of station names, and even train announcements are typically in multiple languages.

Private sector stakeholders have profited from these investments into the metro system. Screens and platform door installation gave the companies new spaces to advertise. Ads for a variety of products, events, and programs can be found on almost every surface in the stations and on the trains. This has provided a major source of revenue for Seoul Metro. In 2016 alone, 143,000 ads on Lines 1-8 generated 44 billion won in profit. This level of income gives the metro capacity to continue investing in the future.

Future of the System

There are currently plans to extend Lines 1,5,6,7, and 8 as well as expanding and introducing additional commuter lines. The city is also working on upgrading the Wi-Fi capabilities in stations and on the train cars to make it faster for users.

But the future does not come without problems or struggles. Even though Seoul runs trains frequently, during rush hours, cars are often crammed with people standing shoulder to shoulder. The metro system recently faced a number of strikes, which reminded observers that the system is exposed to broader societal challenges in South Korea, including labor rights, livable wages, and employment.

Conclusion

Each new technological addition that Seoul made aimed to enhance the experience for riders while simultaneously generating revenue for the system. Seoul never grows complacent with its system, and these constant improvements have made the system safer, more sustainable, and more admired around the world. Furthermore, Seoul has already started planning how it will expand and advance in the future.

Overall, Seoul has been able to develop a successful metro system because it consistently dedicated resources to the system and constantly evolved which aspects of the system it focused on. Even the best metro systems struggle to achieve success in as many different areas as Seoul. By building an extensive network of tracks, accelerating access to trains, and delivering greater information and safety to users, Seoul built one of the greatest metro systems in the world.

Rachel Kirsch is an intern at the Korea Economic Institute. Rachel graduated from Belmont University with a degree in international politics. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

The picture is from user run2vee on flickr

Posted in slider, South KoreaComments (2)

Building the Seoul Metro System, Part 2: Plastic

By Rachel Kirsch 

The Seoul Metropolitan Subway is often considered one of the best in the world. From trains that routinely arrive on time to cars enabled with Wi-Fi, the Seoul metro provides riders with a positive experience and short travel times. This near-optimal metro system was not built by accident. It was the result of Seoul’s focus on three distinct aspects of the public transportation system. This is the second in a three-part series focusing on the development of the Seoul metro system. Please see Part 1: Steel and Part 3: Silicon.

The Seoul metro faced a predicament at the turn of the century as funding cuts made further track expansions difficult despite growing demand. In order to improve the system, Seoul focused on implementing the second critical piece of its evolution: operational networks that facilitated people’s ability to access the public transportation system, most notably a comprehensive multi-use fare card.

The 2004 Bus Reform

The focus on the metro system had left the bus system in disarray, and there were severe problems with scheduling and route organization. There was also a lack of coordination between the metro and buses, making it difficult for people to use both networks to complete a trip. In response, the government introduced the 2004 Bus Reform, with the primary goal of integrating the two systems.

The biggest outcome from this reform was the changes made to the fare system. Previously, only single ride tickets were available, meaning every transfer was the price of a single ride. A trip with two transfers would be three times the price of a ride with no transfers.

To address this complication, a new fare system was adopted. Riders paid a flat fee of 1,250 won to ride the system within a 10km zone. Transfers added no additional fee as long as the total length of the trip did not exceed 10km. These changes increased the distance people could travel while simultaneously lowering the cost for individual riders.

The T-Money Card

The change to the fare system was made even more potent by the introduction of the T-Money Card. Before the implementation of the card, riders had to stand in line to purchase a new ticket every time they rode the metro, which took up time and created long lines in the stations. To fix these problems the government partnered with LG to develop and design the T-Money Card which debuted in July 2004.

From its inception, the T-Money Card completely changed the way people paid for public transportation. First, it put the bus and the metro under one payment method allowing people to seamlessly transfer from system to system. Secondly, it reduced the amount of time and money that was previously spent buying a new ticket for every ride. The uses of the card only grew from there. It became a comprehensive transit payment card when taxis were equipped with card readers that accepted T-Money Cards in 2007. And in 2014, it expanded so that the same card could be used for metro systems in a number of cities around South Korea. The usage of the card has extended beyond transportation as some convenience stores accept T-Money Cards as valid methods of payment.

With time, the T-Money Card became even more user-friendly. Originally, the card had to be preloaded with money before it could be used. However, eventually, cards were created that connected straight to bank accounts, allowing riders to skip the process of refilling their cards.

The card not only revolutionized the experience for riders but also changed the way planners and administrators understood the system. Since the new fare system required riders to tap in at their origin station and tap out at their destination station, a new set of data emerged that tracked the exact trips that riders took. Now, the government and researchers alike could see routes, times, frequency, and a variety of other information allowing them to more accurately understand and meet the needs of riders. The T-Money card remains the foremost example of how adding technology could enhance existing public transportation infrastructure.

This was only the beginning. The transit authorities would continue to adopt new technologies to improve services, which is addressed in Part 3: Silicon.

Conclusion

With its new coordination with the buses, the metro was able to extend its reach without building any new tracks. Furthermore, the combination of the new fare system with the introduction of the T-Money Card increased the efficiency and efficacy of transit. These rewards alerted the Seoul Metro Corporation to other technologies that it could adopt to further enhance public transportation.

Rachel Kirsch is an intern at the Korea Economic Institute. Rachel graduated from Belmont University with a degree in international politics. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

The picture is from user echojun on flickr

Posted in slider, South KoreaComments (2)

Building the Seoul Metro System, Part 1: Steel

By Rachel Kirsch 

The Seoul Metropolitan Subway is often considered one of the best in the world. From trains that routinely arrive on time to cars enabled with Wi-Fi, the Seoul metro provides riders with a positive experience and short travel times. This near-optimal metro system was not built by accident. It was the result of Seoul’s focus on three distinct aspects of the public transportation system. This is the first in a three-part series focusing on the development of the Seoul metro system. See also Part 2: Plastic and Part 3: Silicon

Foremost, the government made an early commitment to building an extensive network of tracks. The present-day metro has tracks reaching almost every part of Seoul, with 30% of the population living within walking distance (typically considered 800m) of a station. These tracks form the backbone of an exceptional metro system.

Origins of the Seoul Metro System

In the second half of the twentieth century, South Korea experienced economic development centered around Seoul. But as people began migrating to the city, the infrastructure failed to keep up. For instance, car ownership increased quickly, but road construction progressed much more slowly leading to serious traffic problems. Consequently, expanding the fleet of public buses was an insufficient solution because of its reliance on the same overcrowded roads. In response, Seoul looked to expand their public transportation system by digging underground.

To construct and operate the new metro, the government relied on two separate public companies. The first was the Korean National Railroad, today known as Korail, which was founded in 1963 for the purpose of building railroads connecting cities around the country. The government partnered their expertise with a new company founded in 1970, the Seoul Metro Corporation, which focused on rapid transit. In 1974, the two companies worked together to open the first metro line across Seoul.

Line Construction

Phase 1 launched the metro system with the construction of Lines 1-4, which were completed in 1985.  Geographically, the first phase focused on providing services to the areas that were (and continue to be) the most populated areas of the city. The five busiest stations and the three of the five biggest transfer stations in modern Seoul were all built during Phase 1. For the establishment of the system, it was important that the metro start with the places people needed to access the most.

Ten years after the completion of Phase 1, the first line of Phase 2 opened. The second phase ended in 2000 after adding four new lines and one hundred and sixty-one new stops to the system in a span of only five years. With this phase, the government adopted a different approach. Instead of continuing to concentrate on highly populated areas, the focus shifted to reaching areas of Seoul that lacked metro access. Phase 2 played an equally critical role in the evolution of the system because the diversification of track locations broadened the area and population that benefited from the metro.

A Change in Plans

Despite its early successes, the Seoul metro system began to struggle with its own mistakes and shortcomings. Seoul continued to be a popular location to live, but space within the city was limited, and due to a lack of public transportation in nearby satellite cities, people were hesitant to move to these locations. In the ten year gap between Phase 1 and 2, fifty-nine new metro stations opened, but they were all on the four pre-existing lines limiting the options for people commuting into the city. It was not until the late 2000s, when the metro began to change its strategy and introduce specialized, commuter lines to complement the pre-existing metro system. But these lines still left riders with long commutes and limited options.

The decreased budget allocated for public transportation also influenced the government’s change in policy toward rail transportation. Low funding led to the cancelation of the majority of Phase 3, except for Line 9, which did not open until 2009. Seoul had been able to build a system that covered vast portion of the city, but as time went on, the government realized that simply laying extensive rail lines was not enough to make a satisfactory metro system.

These issues would be resolved through the public transit authorities’ adoption of new systems to increase operation speed, which is addressed in Part 2: Plastic.

Conclusion

By dedicating its resources to the construction of numerous tracks, the Seoul government had great success in building a system that adequately traversed the breadth of the city. But its focus on serving the city while neglecting the outskirts hindered commuters from reaping its full benefits. However, the government continues to add commuter rail lines to fix this major vulnerability in the system. Even though the metro has faced setbacks, the first three decades of the Seoul metro provided a strong foundation for future advancements.

Rachel Kirsch is an intern at the Korea Economic Institute. Rachel graduated from Belmont University with a degree in international politics. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

The picture is from user MTA T Train on flickr

Posted in slider, South KoreaComments (2)


About The Peninsula

The Peninsula blog is a project of the Korea Economic Institute. It is designed to provide a wide ranging forum for discussion of the foreign policy, economic, and social issues that impact the Korean peninsula. The views expressed on The Peninsula are those of the authors alone, and should not be taken to represent the views of either the editors or the Korea Economic Institute. For questions, comments, or to submit a post to The Peninsula, please contact us at ts@keia.org.