How Good is Seoul’s BRT?

What do you combine with Curitiba in Brazil? Of course, the first thing that comes into mind, is the bus rapid transit system of that city. Curitiba could be described as the inventor of bus rapid transit and their accomplishments set the bar for other cities around the world. If you don’t know what I’m speaking about, let me introduce this special bus system for you: Bus rapid transit is abbreviated as “BRT” and a good definition is given by the New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Agency:

Bus Rapid Transit or BRT has been defined as “a flexible, integrated, high performance transit system with a quality image and a strong identity.” BRT combines the speed, reliability and amenities of rail-based rapid transit systems with the flexibility of buses.

Worldwide the number of BRT systems grows steadily. Besides Brazil, China comes up with a lot of great executed BRT systems, for example in Guangzhou. In a lot of places the bus station of a BRT has even screen doors and entry/depart points. Another reason for the success of BRT is that in comparison to light rail it’s much cheaper to build. You don’t have to elevate certain ways or dig tunnels.

BRT in South Korea
The system was implemented in Seoul through the public transport reforms in 2004. The effect of the transit reform was that the average speed of buses increased from 10 km/h to 20 km/h. The number of accidents involving a bus decreased. Total travel time decreased, too. This are really great effects.  As for 2011, Seoul Metropolitan Area has 157 km of bus exclusive lanes. The Korean expression for BRT is 간선급행버스체계 and the traffic sign on the left shows bus only lane, which are the backbone of every BRT system.
You are able to experience the advantages of a BRT, if you take a bus along the Gangnam avenue or on most of the Gyeonggi-Bus (the red ones) from a city outside of Seoul to Gangnam, Seoul Station or some other places. There are center lanes which are exclusively for public buses, central stations with passing lanes, buses with high performance and fast transit. However, there’s a discussion if the center-lanes in Seoul can be really called a BRT. Therefor, I’m going to evaluate Seoul’s BRT and I’ll try to answer, if Seoul’s BRT can keep up to international standards.

Evaluation of Seoul’s BRT

coverOn May 1st 2012, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy in cooperation with GIZ (“Deutsche Gemeinschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit”) released a manual to evaluate bus rapid transit systems. This manual is called “BRT Standard” and currently it is in version 1.0.This year a revised version is going to be released. The first version is more than sufficient for our purpose.

Scorecard

The main part of the BRT Standard is a scorecard, which contains several characteristics of BRT systems and it is explained how they can be measured. They are divided into five areas. In my opinion the most important features are:

Service planning:

  • multiple routes
  • peak frequency
  • located in top ten corridors
  • hours of operations

Infrastructure:

  • busway alignment
  • segregated right-of-way
  • passing lanes at stations
  • center stations

Station Design and Station-Bus Interface:

  • platform-level boarding
  • number of doors on bus

Quality of Service and Passenger Information Systems:

  • passenger information

Integration and Access:

  •  universal access
  • integration with other public transport
medal

(Source: The BRT Standard Scorecard, version 1.0, p. 11)

Gold, Silver or Bronze?

This scoring system intends to make various BRT systems comparable. And each systems can receive a gold, silver or bronze medal. It depends on how much they score for each characteristic. So finally, let’s take a look what medal Seoul would get.

The first category is: Service Planning

  • Off-board fare collection 7 of 7

There we’ve got already the first problem. Every bus in Seoul Metropolitan Area has the T-Money card, which is an rechargeable card. So this is a more advanced method of fare collection and I will just give the full score.

  • Multiple routes 4 of 4
  • Peak frequency 2 of 4

On some routes the number or operating buses increases for peak time, but I don’t think in a sufficient way.

  • Off-peak frequency 2 of 3
  • Express, limited, and local services 3 of 3
  • Control center 3 of 3
  • Located In top ten corridors 2 of 2
  • Hours of operations 1 of 2
  • Multi-corridor network 2 of 2

The second category is: Infrastructure

  • Busway alignment 4 of 7

There are examples of a possible configuration and how much points each gets. This is the example for the full score:

buslane

(Source: The BRT Standard Scorecard, version 1.0, p. 21

Seoul’s bus lines has a station for each direction on the outer side (or on the right side of driving direction). I prefer this option but according to the BRT, it deserves only 4 pts.

  • Segregated right-of-way 6 of 7 (sometimes the bus-only lane disappears)
  • Intersection treatments 6 of 6
  • Passing lanes at stations 1 of 4 (passing lanes are the exception)
  • Minimizing bus emissions 2 of 4 (most buses run on LPG but driving style isn’t the most efficient one)
  • Stations set back from intersections 2 of 3
  • Center stations 0 of 3 (personally, I prefer side stations instead of one center station)
  • Pavement quality 2 of 2 (worn out on some places, but overall OK, so still 2 pts)

There are some minus points I have to give: – 5 points for a significant gap between bus floor and station platform and – 3 for overcrowding.

Third category: Station Design and Station-Bus Interface

  • Platform-level boarding 6 of 6 (bus entry level is as same as platform level, but still a gap)
  • Safe and comfortable stations 3 of 3
  • Number of doors on bus 0 of 3 (one entry, one exit door, not wide enough)
  • Docking bays and sub-stops 1 of 2
  • Sliding doors in BRT stations 0 of 1

Fourth category: Quality of Service and Passenger Information Systems

  • Branding 1 of 3
  • Passenger Information 2 of 2

Last category: Integration and Access

  • Universal access 0 of 3 (don’t forget, we talk about the red Gyeongi-buses; all of them have stairs in vehicles)
  • Integration with other public transport 3 of 3
  • Pedestrian access 3 of 3
  • Secure bicycle parking 0 of 2 (nothing for bicycles)
  • Bicycle lanes 0 of 2
  • Bicycle-sharing integration 0 of 1

How Good is Seoul’s BRT Actually?

Overall, express bus system of Seoul received 60 of possible 100 points (in my opinion). That means bronze for Seoul! There is still a lot of space for improvement, but what kind of changes are really necessary? The BRT of Seoul doesn’t meet the universal standards for BRT, but in the local context it’s well developed and very efficient.

Sources and Links: NYC MTA | Video of Guangzhou & PicsNational BRT Institute | Wikipedia | Korea’s Urban Transport

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

4 Responses to How Good is Seoul’s BRT?

  1. Ippo says:

    Very interesting. I think Athens would score zero :p

  2. Nikola says:

    Haha, because Athens has no BRT :) I’ve never been to Athens, but I saw on the internet that you have metro, trolleybuses and even trams! So you have already a wide network with a lot of transport modes.
    BRTs are often realized in fast-growing cities and/or governments with limited funding/space for expansion of the rail network. It’s not like that every city needs a BRT system.

  3. 더스 says:

    One comment on station design: Nearly all of the loading platforms have only one access point on one end of the platform, and this is almost always the opposite end of the platform from where the bus drops you off. We really need crosswalks on both ends (at least), even if one of them only goes to the closer side of the street.

  4. Pingback: Bicycle Lanes in Urban Korea | kasif.info

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