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Themes

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Comprehensive one-stop references on key development issues of Korea

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Bus System Reform in Korea Establishing Buses as a Competitive Mode Transportation: Introduction of the Exclusive Median Bus Lanes and Transfer Discounts

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Advisory Committee

Lee, Sangmin
(Vice President, The Korean Transport Institute)
Hwang, Keeyeon
(Professor, Hongik University)
Lee, Jaelim
(President, Transportation Industry Plicy Research Institute)

Bus System Reform in Korea

Sub-Theme 2 | Establishing Buses as a Competitive Mode Transportation: Introduction of the Exclusive Median Bus Lanes and Transfer Discounts


1. Exclusive Median bus Lanes

Exclusive Median bus Lanes Background

The expansion of roads in Seoul has utterly failed to keep up with the explosive growth in car ownership, resulting in intensifying traffic congestion. This, in turn, has slowed down the speed of buses and made it impossible for them to operate punctually. In an effort to mitigate this problem, Seoul Metropolitan Government began introducing exclusive bus lanes on main roads, but the majority of these lanes were roadside lanes. Compared to exclusive bus lanes in the center of roads, roadside lanes proved to be significantly less effective at ensuring the speed and punctuality of bus services. The city government thus shifted its focus accordingly and began increasing the number of exclusive median bus lanes.


[Exclusive Roadside Bus Lane and Exclusive Median Bus Lane]
 
Source: Renault-Samsung Motor Blog.
Source: Seoul Transportation Policy Department


Trial and Error

Seoul Metropolitan Government decided to increase the number of routes with bus-only lanes along trunk roads and urban expressways to 13, creating a total of 170 kilometers of exclusive bus lanes. Under Phase 1, six of the 13 bus routes were to be completed in 2004, and seven more were to be added in 2005, under Phase 2.

[Distribution of Exlusive Median Bus Lanes in Seoul]
Source: Seoul Metropolitan Government


The first exclusive bus lanes entered service on July 1, 2004. The large number of buses that had previously traveled along the exclusive roadside bus lanes, along with other buses, now lined up along the exclusive median bus lanes in endless throngs. In particular, the incredibly long lines of buses in the exclusive median bus lane of Gangnam-daero became known as “train buses.” Seoul City sought to solve this problem by requiring that Gyeonggi buses (transporting passengers back and forth between towns in Gyeonggi-do and Seoul) and feeder buses make their stops in roadside lanes. As citizens became more familiar with the new lane system and bus stop designs, the congestion along the exclusive median bus lanes began to clear up, and buses started operating at a faster pace. As citizens came to understand, and even actively support, Seoul’s bus reform policy, bus reform finally began achieving tangible results.
 
[Early Days of The Exclusive Median Bus Lanes]
Source: Newsis Article
Source: Seoul Transportation Policy Department

Effects of the Introduction of Exclusive Median bus Lanes

The exclusive median bus lanes have greatly improved the pace and punctuality of bus services in Seoul, thus allowing passengers to predict, with accuracy, when any particular bus will arrive at any given stop. This has made buses a much more competitive mode of public transportation than in the past.

The introduction of exclusive median bus lanes has greatly improved the speed and punctuality of buses. Today, the headway between buses traveling in these lanes is about two minutes, at most. Considering that the headway between subway trains is one minute, buses are now almost as reliable and punctual as the subway system. As buses running in median lanes now drive in straight lines for the majority of their routes, passenger discomfort has been minimized, and their sense of safety has been enhanced. The “bus trains” that used to clog up Gangnam-daero have all but disappeared, and more than 10 percent of all vehicle passengers on this main road at any particular moment are now bus passengers.

As a result of the introduction of exclusive median bus lanes, the speed of buses has increased by 31.74 percent, and the deviation between average punctuality and headway has decreased to 27.74 percent. Also, the number of bus passengers along exclusive median bus lanes has increased by 26.8 percent, raising the overall transportation efficiency of buses.

Transfer Discounts

Transfer Discounts: Background

Subway passengers have long had the benefit of receiving discounts on fares when transferring between trains, but no such benefit was offered for bus passengers. Under this system, a passenger traveling a long distance on a single bus paid almost half the fare of a passenger traveling a shorter distance by taking two or more buses. Moreover, the system offered no discounts for passengers transferring from a bus to a subway train, or vice versa. As the companies operating the subways, urban buses, and neighborhood buses all insisted on separate fare rates, passengers had to pay unfairly high fares when transferring between these modes of transportation.

Integrated Distance-Based Fare System for Buses and Subways

Seoul Metropolitan Government thus introduced integrated distance-based fare rates (applicable to buses and subways alike) and a fixed bus fare rate for buses carrying passengers into and out of the city. These two fare rate systems formed the main pillars of Seoul’s new fare policy, which it called the Integrated Fare System for Public Transportation (IFSPT).

Effects of the IFSPT

When Seoul Metropolitan Government unveiled its new integrated fare policy, there was strong opposition from the subway operating companies and the Gyeonggi bus operating companies. However, the city had relatively little problem securing the consent of the Seoul Metropolitan Rapid Transit Corporation (SMRT) and Seoul Metro, as both were part of the city government itself. On the other hand, Seoul struggled to reach an agreement with the Incheon Transit Corporation and KORAIL, which objected to the plan on the grounds that switching to an integrated distance-based fare system would inevitably force them to raise the basic fare rate. This meant that passengers who had paid a basic fare of only KRW 650, thanks to the discount benefits associated with their transportation cards, would have to pay KRW 800. The city could mitigate the controversy over this issue by offering transfer discounts, but KORAIL had to raise its fare rate without providing any similar compensatory measures. In the end, though, KORAIL agreed to the introduction of the new fare system for the convenience of the public. Nevertheless, the new fare rates increased the financial burden on passengers traveling long distances, from one end of the city to the other, by subway daily. Faced with mounting public criticism, Seoul Metropolitan Government decided to increase subsidies for long-distance commuters and readjust the basic and additional fare distances to 12 kilometers and six kilometers, respectively. Through difficult negotiations and concessions, the city government was able to enter into a final agreement with KORAIL only 10 days before implementing the public transportation reform, as scheduled, on July 1, 2004.

However, there was still the problem of passengers traveling by bus from Gyeonggi-do to Seoul, where they then transferred to urban or neighborhood buses, expecting to benefit from the same transfer discounts. The key point of contention was deciding which government—Seoul or Gyeonggi-do—should subsidize the transfer and fare discounts for such inter-city bus travelers. Seoul and Gyeonggi-do held numerous meetings to discuss and decide which of the various measures and fare subsidization plans were the fairest. One proposal suggested conducting a joint survey to determine the proportions of Seoul- and Gyeonggi-based passengers taking buses across the borders of Seoul and dividing the burden of subsidization accordingly. Another proposal suggested that the local government responsible for the departure point subsidize the fares. The two governments finally reached an agreement in January 2005, with Gyeonggi-do accepting Seoul’s proposed integrated fare system and subsidization formulae.

Seoul Metropolitan Government sought to reform the public transportation fares in order to increase the popularity and competitiveness of public transportation and ensure the transparency of public transportation revenue. As a result of the new fare system, the average cost per passenger per trip has decreased from KRW 620 to KRW 592, or by 4.5 percent.

[Table 4. Pre- and Post-Reform Bus Fares]
Goal Unit/measure Change
Affordable fare Fare per trip (KRW) 620 (latter half of 2003)
⇒ 592 (first half of 2004)
Transparency of revenue Card transaction ratio (%) 77.4% (January 2003)
⇒ 88.9% (December 2004)
Source: KOTI (2013). Public Transportation System Reform