Tag Archive | "transportation"

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

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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

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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

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People-Centered Economy vs. Innovation

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

What Happened

  • On October 7, Tada, a ride-hailing mobile app platform, announced that it would increase its number of vehicles from 1,400 to 10,000.
  • In response, 12,500 taxi drivers gathered to protest against Tada on October 23.
  • On October 28, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office indicted the heads of Tada on charges of operating illegal passenger transportation business.

Implications: The South Korean government is struggling to balance its dual aim of promoting innovative business and protecting workers in existing industries. The government has been cutting regulations to accelerate innovative growth and incentivize startups. However, some innovations inevitably displace some traditional industries. The transportation industry is one of the most salient examples of this conflict. Recently, prosecutors indicted Tada executives following massive protests by taxi drivers who argued that the government should halt Tada’s illegal operations. The Korea Startup Forum, an advocacy group for local startups, voiced concerns that the indictment might nullify government’s efforts to boost innovation.

Some observers are concerned that the case against Tada might have a cooling effect on startups and investments in innovations related to the sharing economy. Because the indictment against Tada comes on the heels of similar cases involving Uber and Kakao, some have accused the government of “much talk but little action” on innovation.

Context: This is not the first time that the taxi industry fought against ride-sharing platforms. The government has been attempting to find a “win-win” solution that would allow startups like Tada to operate while appeasing taxi drivers. In July, the transport ministry proposed a plan in which service like Tada would contribute a portion of their earnings to a public fund that would purchase taxi licenses. However, both Tada and taxi drivers were dissatisfied with the government’s suggestion.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Soojin Hwang, Hyoshin Kim, and Rachel Kirsch.

Picture from user Ged Carroll on flickr

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Strikes Without Bite

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

What Happened

  • From October 7 to October 9 workers on Line 9 of the Seoul Metro went on strike, demanding the recognition of security personnel as full-time employees and other rights.
  • The strike ended when the union negotiated a 5.7% base pay raise as well as additional benefits.
  • Despite 125 workers participating in the strike, the metro reported no delays. This can be attributed to a law that requires unionized workers in the Seoul metro to continue running a portion of trains throughout the day.

Implications: The metro strike provided a glimpse into why labor unions in South Korea wield so little bargaining power. In addition to laws that require metro workers to provide uninterrupted operations during rush hour, the city deployed non-unionized substitute workers to affected stations and a fleet of buses in preparation for any possible disruptions. Union leaders accurately interpreted the mandatory operation of trains as “neutralizing” the impact of the strike.

Part of the weakness also stems from unions being organized by locality and corporation. For instance, Line 9 of the Seoul Metro went on strike without the support of other lines or other public transportation workers. This prevents industry-wide actions and bargaining, which is more common in Western labor markets.

Context: Although the Line 9 strike has been resolved, Korean commuters are not quite in the clear yet. Unionized workers on Lines 1-8 plan to strike October 16-18, and those working on the Seohae line, a commuter line into Seoul, plan to strike on October 15. The Korean Railway Workers’ Union also went on strike over the weekend. Operating capacity of KTX trains fell to around 72.4%. However, as with the strike on Line 9, the government’s auxiliary measures mitigated its impact on commuters.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Soojin Hwang, Hyoshin Kim, and Rachel Kirsch.

Image from user LERK on Wikimedia Commons

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How Seoul Could Help Make America’s Transit Great Again

By Christopher Hurst

As President-elect Donald Trump prepares for the presidency, more of his plans for the nation have come into focus. One of his most talked-about plans is a massive investment in America’s infrastructure. In one of his first addresses after being elected, Trump said, “We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none.”

One important part of any infrastructure investment should be public transit. Unfortunately, America does not have the best record in building efficient public transit, as any Washington, DC Metro rider can attest. However, as cities and the Trump administration begin to formulate their plans, Seoul offers an example of an efficient, well-planned public transit system for them to follow.

One of the major benefits of living in Seoul is the city’s amazing public transit. It meets the requirements of being cheap, efficient, and reliable, to the point where living without a car is a very realistic goal. As two intrepid travelers have shown, it is even possible to travel from Seoul to Busan using only using local train and bus systems.

Seoul’s first line opened in August of 1974, and the system has grown to 18 different lines serving the metro area. With the number of lines in the Seoul metro area, it may seem like Korea is finished building out their system. In fact, this is only the beginning. As Nikola Medimorec, from the transportation blog Kojects noted, “What really makes Seoul and Korea transportation a really great system are the continuous improvements.” Seoul plans to add 10 more lines to the system by 2025. If they are able to complete their goal, most Seoul citizens will live within 10 minutes of a subway station.

The Seoul subway system provided rides for 2.6 billion passengers in 2015 (using figures for only lines 1-9). This system was designed through a mix of publicly and privately owned corporations. Currently, Seoul Metro (a public company owned by the Seoul Metropolitan Government) in conjunction with the national railroad operator, Korail, operate lines 1-4. Seoul Metropolitan Rapid Transit Corporation (also a public company owned by the Seoul Metropolitan Government) operates lines 5-8. The division in operating companies was an attempt to create competition between the public companies and incentivize them to improve customer service. However, the division added cost and created inefficiencies such as reduced purchasing power for the companies. To remedy this, Seoul Metro and Seoul Metropolitan Rapid Transit recently announced a merger that should lower cost and improve safety through standardized practices across the system. The new company will be the world’s largest mass transit provider. The privately held Seoul Metro Line 9 Corporation operates the final line within the city’s borders. The lines serving the rest of the metro area are also a mix of public and private partnerships.

One of the first things noticed when comparing Seoul’s transit system versus American transit, is how little Seoul’s metro operating budget relies on a government subsidies. Much of the funding comes from passenger fares, which are still much cheaper than many metro systems in the USA as the chart shows. In 2015, Seoul Metro Corporation had a budget of $1.4 billion dollars with $755 million coming from fare income and only $25 million from the city. Additionally, Seoul Rapid Transit Corp. had a budget of $754 million in 2015 with $510 million from fare income and only $7 million as a subsidy from the city. The Washington D.C. Metro system (second busiest in America), in contrast had a budget of $1.7 billion dollars with $896 million dollars from fares and $779 million from state and local governments. All three systems have other sources of income such as advertising and commercial rent from stores in the stations. Seoul metro shows that smart planning can allow a mass transit to not be dependent on state funds.

Subway Fare Table

With so many operators, it is easy to imagine a confusing payment and transfer system. However, all the operators accept the same payment system, T-money. In fact, not only is T-money accepted in Seoul, most of the major cities in Korea (including Busan, Daegu, and Incheon) accept T-money for their bus and subway systems. In the U.S., this would be equivalent to taking a trip from Chicago to New York and using the same fare payment system in both cities. The T-money system allows a user to pay with a special transit card, a phone app, or a chip embedded on a credit card. Having one payment system that is accepted countrywide makes transportation user friendly, and ensures that travelers in Korea don’t have to worry about buying a metro card with a left over balance that they might never us again. The T-money system has become so ubiquitous that many convenient stores accept it as payment.

The improvements do not end with an expanded metro system or improved payment systems, but also aim to make the system safer. Subway passengers falling onto the tracks is a major source of accidents in the United States. It is estimated that 50 people a year die either accidently or from committing suicide on the tracks in New York City alone.  In Seoul, however, there has been an initiative over the past few years to put platform doors on all subway stops system-wide. The doors are mandatory for new stations. Because of this commitment to passenger safety, the doors have cut suicide deaths by 89% since their installation.

As the Korean example shows, there are many opportunities to invest in transit in America. From public-private partnerships to a greater emphasis on passenger safety, Donald Trump can learn a lot from Korea’s experience. Here’s hoping that while President-elect Trump works to make America’s transit great again, he remembers that when it comes to infrastructure not everyone commutes by car.

 

Christopher Hurst is an intern at the Korea Economic Institute of America and a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from LWYang’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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