Namsan E-Bus, First Commercial Electric Bus Worldwide

Last summer I went to the N-Tower at the mountain Namsan in Seoul. On the way up the mountain I used the convenient cable car and the view from the tower was great. From the top I’ve saw the following thing:

Electric Bus at Namsan in Seoul

It was the first time that I saw this bus in Seoul and the symbol on the parking lot suggested that it was an electric vehicle. Later, I’ve found out that it’s the first commercially used electric bus system in the world. The buses operate there since 2010. After I’ve enjoyed the panorama and skyline of Seoul from to the tower, I went to check out the buses:

namsan e-bus
The design is really great because it suits well to the area of the Namsan Park. They are very clean and the colors are bright.  The buses belong to the public transport network of Seoul, so the fares are the same like any other bus or subway and it is possible to transfer without any charge.

The name indicates that the buses are mainly for the area of Namsan.


20120817_153508From the inside, the buses are very clean, too. I couldn’t hear any noisy engine sound. Actually, the biggest noise came from the air conditioner which is suited in the back of the vehicle. Thus, there is no window in the back. There are less seats than in a normal bus and as far as I recall, the door in the middle opened towards the outside, which leaves more standing place and a more efficient use of space.

Electric buses need to charge their batteries very often. There are several recharging machines at the bus station of the Namsan Tower. As you can see in the pictures, the recharge stations are small. Of course, there isn’t any gasoline smell or any other inconvenient points, which you definitely don’t want to have in a park (and the most famous tourist spot). According to an article by CNN News, the battery has enough power for a distance of 80 km at an speed of 20 to 40 km/h. The top speed of the bus is 100 km/h.

At the bus stop, I saw that the bus has three lines: Bus line 02 goes from the Namsan Tower to Myeongdong-Station and on the way it passes by the Namsan Hanok Village (at Chungmuro Station) and Dongguk-University. The bus line 03 goes southward to Itaewon and bus line 05 passes Namdaemun Market (as well as Songremun), Myeondong and even Sindang Station,  before it goes back along the Dongguk University to Namsan. The length of every route is around 10 to 15km. That’s also what I expected of an e-bus in the “first generation”. I hope that the system is going to improve and that they may replace all buses of Seoul one day.


I would like to round up this entry by taking you on a ride with the worldwide first commercially-used electric bus:

Sources and Links: Daum Maps | Gizmag | CNN Travel | Sustainable Mobility

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About Nikola
Grad Student of Geography at Seoul National University, interested in transport and urban planning.

4 Responses to Namsan E-Bus, First Commercial Electric Bus Worldwide

  1. Pingback: Wireless Charging of Electric Bus in Gumi | Kojects

  2. Simon says:

    How are these buses doing? Especially, how are their batteries coping?

    The use of batteries for road transport is not new (for instance, London’s first battery-electric bus service started in 1907!) and the main reason why batteries have not found favour is that within 5 or so years their ability to hold a charge had gone down so much that the batteries are no longer viable.


    • Nikola says:

      Hey Simon,

      I’ve looked up some news and it seems that there are some issues with the electric buses in Seoul. The operation shows that a battery can go 30 km on average with a full charge. Still there are in service but Seoul scrapped plans to buy more electric vehicles.
      A critical article says that there have been ca. 900 repairs for the 14 vehicles in 3 years. This statistic covers all kind of things, not only the battery! In my opinion it isn’t such a huge problem. The technology of batteries has to improve though.

  3. Simon says:

    Thanks Nikola.

    Battery technology has been an issue for over 100 years, it *is* improving but still remains suitable for only niche services – such as city centre distributors which do not travel long distances during the day and frequently benefit from (local) government financial support.

    This is why so many cities use overhead wires on their main heavy duty routes. This remains the only proven solution for commercial bus services.

    The trials in Gumi may change that… if things go well.

    As an aside, trials began earlier this year (2014) in the English town of Milton Keynes using electric midi-buses that have their batteries charged using induction and within a few months it was realised that to maintain the same service frequencies they will need 9 battery buses – instead of just 7 diesel buses!

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