Sustainable Transportation in Korea

UN-HABITAT published some weeks ago the GRHS 2013 (Global Report on Human Settlements) with a focus on sustainable human transport. Even though the report sometimes mentions Korea/Seoul and it contains an info-box about the bike sharing system in Changwon (p. 137),  a background study about sustainable transport in East Asia was more interesting for me. This report analyzed the condition of transport in China, Japan, Korea (South AND North), Mongolia and Taiwan. The authors seem to be great experts about mainland China and Shanghai but not so much about other regions. Nevertheless, it gives a nice context about sustainability in the transport sector of Korea. This post is going to summarize their main findings related to Korea without going too deep into the topic.

Bicycle Transport in Korea

Korea acknowledges the importance of cycling and some cities implemented successfully bike sharing programs. Bicycle ownership is also relatively high with 166 bikes per 1000 persons. Nevertheless the bicycle modal split is extremely low (in 2005 it was at 1.2 % and it didn’t change much since then). So far, Korean cities developed master plans and they tried to integrate bikes with public transport through bicycle parking facilities near subway stations. Korea has a national bicycle master plan. Cities are closing streets on weekend to get people on their bikes or on their feet.

Metro in Seoul

In terms of efficiency the most environmentally friendly mass transit method is rail. If you don’t count in the suburban rail lines of Tokyo, then Seoul’s metro has the busiest metro system of the world. The first subway line was opened in 1975. There have been two phases of investments into rail transit in the capital area: Phase 1 (1971-1994) and Phase 2 (1990-2000) (yeah, it somehow overlaps) costed together 120 trillion won (110 billion USD) and the national government carried costs. Now, Seoul Metropolitan Government or private partners have to finance line extensions. The government acts still as a partially sponsor (up to 50%). Metro Line No. 9 was realized thanks to a public-private partnership.

Korean Bus System

I like to think about Seoul’s bus reform of 2004 as what we Westerners associate with before and after Christ. The change to a semi-public operation system improved the service and efficiency of public buses. The satisfaction of users proved its success. Buses remain operated by private companies but Seoul decides on the routes, schedules and fares. Each company gets reimbursed on a vehicle kilometres-scheme instead on a passenger-count-system (like it was before). This reform brought also the Smart Card system and intelligent transport system along.

Transit-Oriented Development

Curitiba? Bogota? Forget these examples of TOD. The real role model should be Seoul. Near public transport nodes you can find a high density of retail and businesses. General density is already very high in Korea but close to transport hubs, there is a clear concentration of uses. It could be further improved by a better connectivity to bicycle transport and walking.

Road Safety

There’s one really strange thing in the report:

Hong Kong SAR, Japan and the Republic of Korea have been the models for other Eastern Asia countries in terms of promoting traffic safety. For many years, they have been taking different efficient measures which include children traffic safety education, severe punishment to traffic accidents and road or vehicle safety performance improvements.

Road safety is a big issue in Korea but the number of traffic deaths isn’t decreasing and most of the measures are very cost-intensive and they aim towards the wrong group, in my humble opinion.

Barrier-Free Transport

There are a couple of laws which try to focus on the vulnerable, weak transport users. All facilities are being upgraded and access to buses and metros is in the progress to become easier.

Parking in Korea’s Urban Areas

The report mentions briefly the parking policy of Korea. It says that the intention was to reduce parking space in city centers with the goal to promote usage of public transport. Park-and-ride and high parking charges are also helping.

Conclusion

Korea has mainly four measures to promote environmental friendly transport:

  • high investments into rail transit
  • transport demand management through congestion fees in Seoul (like Namsan tunnels) etc.
  • public transport reform in 2004 and the ongoing integration with of public transport modes in the capital
  • fuel tax to maintain transport facilities

Their conclusion summarizes the process of sustainable urban transport for East Asia. I hope that you saw in this post that Seoul puts a lot of efforts to advance to a more sustainable stage of transportation. There’s still a lot improvement possible and needed!

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

2 Responses to Sustainable Transportation in Korea

  1. kashfi says:

    interesting article! thanks for summarizing and sharing those info.

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