Seoul Public Transportation System

A night scene of Seoul down town ("Introduction...Seoul").

Seoul is the economic and political capital of the Republic of Korea and a growing force in Asia. The city and wider metropolitan area has seen significant urban growth during the past thirty years. In 1942 its population was around 1 million. Between 1960 and 2002, the Greater Seoul metropolitan area which includes the cities of Incheon and the Gyeonggi Province quadrupled in population . Today it houses nearly half the national population, and the average density is 17,275 people per km² (16,000 if Incheon city is included) making it 1.3 times more dense than neighbouring Tokyo city and the sixth densest urbanised centre in the world ("Allen").

Investigation Question

How has the development of public transport influence the liveability of the local residents.

1. How has the development of the hardware and facilities (converge, efficiency etc).

2. The development of supplementary services has an effect on influencing liveability.

Let's Begin with a Video


There are several choices available for transportation in Seoul: taxis, buses, and the subway. Almost any point in Seoul can be reached using one of these modes of transportation. The basic idea behind building Seoul's transportation network was to connect the bus routes to the subway system. The average Korean uses public transportation daily. The traffic situation is very serious in Seoul, especially during rush hour, which is from 7 - 9 in the morning and from 4 - 7 in the evening. It's a good idea to avoid being out during rush hour, if possible, but buses and the subway are  very good transportation to travel around Seoul because they are very inexpensive, convenient and easy to use.

A map of the subway system of Seoul ("Seoul City Transportation")


Seoul City's subway system is one of the most convenient and fastest way to get around the city. It currently consists of lines 1 through 9 plus the Jungang Line, Bundang Line, and Gyeongui Line. The color-coded subway lines make the Seoul Metro quite easy to use. The subway operation hours are from 5:30 to approximately 24:00. The estimated travel time between subway stations is 2~3 minutes.

The first line opened in 1974. Now, it has 14 lines and more than 350 stations.

Subway fee chart ("Seoul City Transportation")

Besides its large coverage and efficiency, other features of Seoul's subway systems make lives more easier and comfortable for the users.

The system is clean, well laid out and easy to negotiate, even for a non-Korean-speaking foreigner such as myself. To enter the system, you can simply hold your smartphone over the turnstile “card reader” and the gates open, while automatically deducting approximately $1 from your account. You can also hold a credit card or a little medallion that you put transit money on over the turnstile. This works on the hundreds of different bus lines and on the train to the airport too.

Most of Seoul’s subway lines have “platform screening doors,” or vertical glass walls that separate the platforms from the tracks and protect the waiting passengers from the screeching, potentially deadly trains. There’s Wi-Fi everywhere, even in the trains.


Taxis are available anywhere and are generally clean. The prices are non-negotiable as the taxis have meters that calculate the fare according to distance and time. You can flag down a taxi almost anywhere in the city and as long as they don't have a passenger, they'll stop. There are two different kinds of taxis: general and deluxe ("").

Regular Taxis

These taxis are generally white or silver and the top will have a "taxi" sign. The fare is calculated according to distance and time. Once you get in the taxi, the fare automatically starts at 1,300 won ($1.20 US - approx) and goes up after two kilometers, depending on traffic, then increases one hundred won (approx $.10 US) every 210 meters or 51 seconds. The ilban taxi is relatively inexpensive in comparison to taxis in other metropolitan cities around the world.

Deluxe Taxis

About two times more expensive than the ilban taxi, the deluxe taxi will take you to any major location in the city. They are trained to serve foreigners and most can speak basic English, so the service is generally excellent. Car phones are available for use. Still, compared to other metropolitan cities around the world, they are a good value. The price is not negotiable and tipping is not necessary.


Three types of buses cover routes connecting every corner of the city: the Ilban bus, Jwaseok bus and Maeul bus. Buses arrive at stops in five to fifteen minute intervals, though you may have to give them a bit of leeway in the busier parts of the city. Schedules vary depending on the bus route involved but most routes start at 4:30 a.m. with the last bus of the day making its round at 1 a.m ("Seoul City Transportation").


Actually, in 2004, Seoul undergoes a large-scale reform in the bus system.

As could be observed in this diagram, during the late 1990s and early 2000s, the number of bus companies is gradually declining, despite the rise of the city population. This kind of fall actually already has started in late 1980s and continued until 2000s. During that time, bus services in Seoul were predominantly run by private firms, with virtually no government intervention of routes, schedules or any other aspects of services. Most routes were planned to allow a maximum of passengers to be able to use the service but this in times made travel times unnecessarily long as few buses took the most direct route.(Seoul Bus Reform).

Also, unprofessional activities by the bus drivers to attract passengers and stop and starts at bus stops often causes accidents. Since the bus companies are engaged in overheated competition with each other, the priority becomes competing for the best route instead of the service provided to the passengers. As a result, the average number of total daily passengers per bus decreases from 1,093 in 1989 to only 494 in 2002 ("Seoul Bus Reform"), resulting in the bus revenue fell and creating more deficits and bankruptcies. The bus companies fall from 89 in 1995 to only 58 in 2002.

Actions taken during Seoul's 2004 Bus Reform ("Seoul Bus Reform")

In 2004, the government finally decides to intervene with the deteriorating situation. Overall, they were restructured to improve service levels with more regular frequencies and headways and also to integrate better with the metro. All major bus routes were redesigned according to demand and to increase overall capacity using a trunk and feeder approach especially to serve the BRT lines. Overall, they were restructured to improve service levels with more regular frequencies and headways and also to integrate better with the metro. A new numbering system was introduced and the buses were grouped into easy-to-follow four colour coded types according to the type of service they offered. The total number of routes was also increased (from 365 to 411) and some lines were shortened to be more direct. This had the added benefit of reducing operating costs.

A chart of the 4 different kinds of buses in Seoul ("New Bus System of Seoul")

Concluding Remark


Allen, Heather. "Bus Reform in Seoul." UN Habitat. UN Habitat. n.d. Web. 26 May 2015. <>

"Korea's Advanced Public Transportation System." Youtube. Youtube. 21 June 2011. Web. 26 May 2015. <>

"Introduction...Seoul." Blogger. Blogger. n.d. November 2010. Web. 26 May 2015 <>

"Seoul City Transportation." Korea Institute for Advanced Study. Korea Institute for Advanced Study. n.d. Web. 26 May 2015. <>

Seoul City Traffic Card - T-Money

A sample Seoul City Traffic Card ("Travel Highlights")

Also, the waiting station has been improved. As could be seen below, now each bus station has a shelter with improved high tech information board, guiding the passengers to their destination more effectively

The Seoul City Traffic Card allows people to

After the reformation, the results and benefits could be seen through the two charts below.

As could be observed from the two charts, the accidents and injuries of the bus has been decreasing year by year; whereas on the other hand, number of passengers, punctuality of the bus all increased. This could be shown that effective management, the development of supplementary services are as important as hardware infrastructures in order to increase the enjoyability and liveability of the citizens using public transportations.

In conclusion, in order to improve the liveability of the citizens using the public transportation system, firstly, hardware system, infrastructures needs to be established whilst having a nice coverage over the city, allowing people to move from point to point with good efficiency. Meanwhile, supplementary services are as important. As could be seen in the bus reform example, the establishment of better routes, better information system, transit system, all contributes in improving the enjoyability and liveability of the s

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