Bike Sharing System in Seoul

Seoul Bike Sharing

After the big announcement about a new, city-wide public bicycle sharing system last year, we have seen very little about the news about the system. Now stations for the public bike sharing system were set up and it is going to be run a trial from September 19 to October 14. The official opening of the service to the public is October 15.

Thanks to Philip for the tip about the sudden appearance of stations! He posted pictures about the new system in the Kojects Forum and gave me many helpful information. It made me curious and so I begun to work on this post and visited Sinchon to get a sneak peek at the new public bike sharing system in Seoul.



The Initial Plan

To summarize the previous blog post, Seoul announced last year that they intend to reform their public bike-sharing system. The changes include:

  • new system with a new name and new fare structure
  • more bicycles (from 340 before to 2,000 in 2015, 10,000 in 2017 and 20,000 bicycles until 2020)
  • more stations at more locations (beginning with Yeouido, Sinchon, Seongsu-dong, CBD and Sangnamdong)
  • construction of infrastructure in combination with road diets

From a small system that just operated at a couple of locations it will grow to a large system. At first the public bicycle sharing stations will be set up at the five areas mentioned above. Slowly, it will expand to other areas and then cover the whole city in 2020.



What happened since last year?

After the official announcement it was quiet for a couple of months. Planning a bike sharing system in a ten-million city isn’t easy.

Public participation was done in a nice way. By giving citizens the chance to actively participate in the process Seoul is able to promote the policy and get more believers for the bicycle system. In addition, it saves the city many money because they didn’t have to hire an expensive branding company to get an unsatisfying result.

seoul-public-bicycle-logoFrom February 27 to March 12 Seoul gave citizens the opportunity to submit names for the new bicycle sharing system. The winner was “따릉이” (Ddareungi). It can’t be translated easily into English. It’s the sound that the bicycle bell makes, so it would be ‘ring, ring’.

A design for the bicycles was chosen:

Bike Sharing System Model of Seoul

(Source: Chosun Bike)

Here is the initial design for the stations that was also selected through public participation:

Seoul Public Bicycle Station

(Source: Chosun Bike)

The station is simple and light. It doesn’t have any impact on the built environment at all. It won’t be a large obstacle on the sidewalk for pedestrians. In Sincheon I could see the new stations before the opening:

Seoul Public Bicycle Station

The stations differ from the final design just slightly. The bike racks are round and bigger than first planned.

Seoul Public Bicycle Station
As said before, the station is vey simple. It can be easily removed or moved to another location. Installing a bike sharing station is simpler than assembling an IKEA shelf. The only negative point is that the bike racks don’t have a roof. Korea’a harsh weather is going to destroy the bicycles fast.
A very unique feature is that there are no terminals. A member card, mobile phone or a transport card is enough to borrow a bike.

Bike Sharing System in Seoul

The bikes are connected to the bike rack through a cable that has a plug for the front of the bike.

Bike Sharing System in Seoul

The adapter is plugged in to the right side of the bicycle console.

Bike Sharing System in Seoul

At first I didn’t understand what it means. Now at home, looking at the pictures, I see that this is some kind of lock. Users can secure their borrowed bicycles with this lock by plugging it into the same spot where you put in the bicycle rack adapter.

Seoul Public Bicycle

The bicycles are produced by Alton, a Korean bicycle company. It is a good move to support a local bike manufacturer even though the majority of Alton bicycles are also getting manufactured in China. 2,000 bicycles will be introduced in the beginning.

Bike Sharing System in Seoul

Though it means that the bicycles have a drum brake on the rear wheel. It’s a very typical feature of Alton bikes. A drum brake lives longer than a rim brake. But if it gets broken, then repair is difficult. The bike has only three speeds through an internal-gear hub.



Bicycle Infrastructure

The city published in August a 585-page master plan about the bicycle infrastructure. I knew that the bicycle department of Seoul was very busy but 585 pages, wow! It begins with an examination of the existing bicycle infrastructure and introduces then all details of the bicycle plan.

Currently, there are a total of 733.4km bike lanes. 124.4km are bike-only lanes and the large majority (600.2km) are shared paths between cyclists and pedestrians. This map shows the quality of the bicycle path in Seoul:

Seoul Bicycle Path Quality

(Source: Bicycle Master Plan, p. 193)

The best quality (1등 급) is indicated in blue. Mainly the bicycle trails along the rivers and streams received the highest score. The bike paths in Songpa-gu and Yeouido scored well, too. The worst quality is shown in orange or red. Seoul plans to invest 13 billion KRW ($11.3 million USD) in the next five years to preserve and improve the existing bicycle infrastructure. The investment will go into the improvement of bike lane surface, road markings and maintenance. Additional 23.7 billion KRW ($20 million USD) are going to be spent for new infrastructure. The goal is to build 172km new bike paths in Seoul. The infrastructure is going to expand and go through urban areas. Here you can see how Seoul will look like in 2020:

Seoul Future Bike Map

(Source: Bicycle Master Plan, p. 147)


When Seoul introduced the measure, they showed the following concept for a road diet and bicycle infrastructure:

Seoul Road Diet

(Source: Seoul)

A couple of days ago I visited Jonggak Station area and I couldn’t see anything. There isn’t any construction to see there yet. In Sinchon there was actually some change.

Bike Sharing System in Seoul

There is paint on the street and signs were installed.

Bike Sharing System in Seoul

Next to the road from Sogang University to Sinchon Station I spotted this sign:

Bike Sharing System in Seoul

It says that it is a bicycle-priority road. This road is shared between cars and cyclists BUT then it says in red letters that cyclists have to ride on the right edge of the road. The sign is really small. I wonder for who this sign is made? It’s too small to be readable by car drivers and even cyclists will have a hard time to read it.

They also had some bigger signs with the same message:

Seoul Bicycle Priority Lane

So that’s the current situation. The bike master plan promises real bicycle infrastructure: The bike path is going to be 1.5m wide and on sidewalk height. They are going to be between the sidewalk and the road. Seoul plans to gradually introduce new infrastructure. They can’t expect a large ridership without high-quality infrastructure. Nobody would drive a car if the roads would be disconnected with a bad surface and no signs.

I just wonder if they are going to do road diets and take away some space of the road or if they are going to separate the existing sidewalks. In many areas around the city the sidewalk isn’t wide enough to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists. Seoul wants to have at least a 3m wide sidewalk for pedestrians. The bike paths as a buffer between the road and sidewalk will improve the walking environment.
The bicycle master plan shows the infrastructure is going to help avoid conflicts between cyclists and buses.  There are four design solutions for the bus stops:

Seoul Bus Bicycle Conflicts

(Source: Bicycle Master Plan, p. 212)

The bike infrastructure construction is going to begin next year and be completed by 2020.



System Details

The fare is 1,000 KRW for a day. For a week it costs 3,000 KRW, a month for 5,000 KRW, 6 months for 15,000 KRW and a year for 30,000 KRW. It’s really cheap! Philip told us that the system will charge users if they keep the bicycle for too long. There is a surcharge after an hour, which is going to be 1,000 KRW for every 30 minutes, with a maximum of four hours and 6,000 KRW. I read that the system is going to work round-the-clock and without holidays but it won’t be possible to get a bike between 1 and 5am at night. But also throughout the whole year?

Seoul Public Bicycle Sharing

The bikes can be borrowed through the official website or an app. Through the app a user can select the location of the station and I suppose that it then works through NFC. Better is to use the homepage and register the personal transport card that you use for subway and bus. With the registered transport card the user can then get a bicycle by tapping the card on the bicycle.

Bike Sharing System in Seoul

The website exists currently only in Korean but it seems that English, Japanese and Chinese versions of the website are in preparation. The instructions are very vague to this point.

The bicycles at Sinchon Station were sponsored by a Korean bank. That reminds me of the Citi Bikes and Barclays. But I’m not sure if all bicycles are sponsored by the bank or maybe, as it was done for the public bike scheme in Changwon, several sponsors finance a certain amount of bicycles. I have no idea how much the operation of the system is going to cost or how much budget the city prepared to the service.



Trial Operation

Citizens were able to apply to test the system from September until December. It isn’t yet possible to register for the service through the website. An app doesn’t yet show up in the app stores. Sincheon and Yeouido will test the system from September 19 until October 14. One of the stations had also this neighborhood map:

Seoul Public Bicycle Sinchon Map

You can see where the other stations are and how they can be reached the best on a bicycle. The goal of Seoul’s bike system is to connect citizens to public transport. All routes lead to Sinchon Station.

The other areas (CBD, Sangam-dong and Seongsu-dong) will install the stations soon and begin operation on the official opening date. In these areas you can spot this sign:

Seoul Public Bike Station
It says that they will set up a bike sharing station here between August and September. A bike station for ten bicycles doesn’t require more than 12 square meter of place. The new website offers a map of all stations. There will be an interactive map about the availability of Seoul’s public bicycles.




Korea builds new infrastructure very fast but I wonder if in this case they should have taken more time to construct the infrastructure before opening the system. In New York it was somehow similar: The Citi Bikes were introduced first and later New York City constructed bike paths and lowered the urban speed limit.

There are still many open questions and probably a couple of system-related issues will change after the test period. The key for the success is the infrastructure. It isn’t about how much paths Seoul will build, it’s more about the quality of the bike paths. The bicycle-priority lanes are a nice idea but I doubt that cyclists will be safe. A network with dedicated lanes is the safest way to promote bicycle usage.


Sources and Related Information: Seoul Bicycle Master Plan (2) (3) | Official Seoul Bike Sharing Website | Kojects Forum

About This Author

<p>Co-Author of Kojects. Interested in Sustainable Transportation, Urbanism and Korea.</p>


You can post comments in this post.

  • You’re right about weather. I just liked looking at how new, clean, and sleek they looked, but didn’t think about how quickly they’ll be worn down. Also, I was getting worried as it’s less than 24 hours from test launch with no app or signups in sight. But you said this: “Citizens were able to apply to test the system from September until December.” Was that 2014? :(

    Regarding the limitations between 1 and 5:00 a.m., I wonder if that only applies during the testing period. If that’s a permanent condition, it either means all the signs and their website are wrong (about the 24 hour service), or those who rent a bicycle just before 1:00 won’t be able to return the bike until after the four-hour window. Either way, not good. Oh, and that lock you showed serves two purposes: the first being to briefly lock it up in an area without a station, as you mentioned; the second being to return it to a station which is already full. This is achieved by some sort of daisy chaining to the last bike in the row I think, but I’m not too sure.

    Anyway, I’m really glad my comments could help you out and that you visited Sinchon to write the article!

    Philip Partington 2 years ago Reply

    • Hey!

      Thanks for your comment and pointing out some important things.
      Oh, I wrote the sentence a little bit strange. I meant that citizens were able to apply to test the bikes. The application had to be submitted in the first two weeks of September. The selected citizens will monitor the system and write reports about their experience. Usually each month they should write one report (until December). And they get a chance to use the system now during the trial period and then continue afterwards.

      I think that the signups and the app will launch in October together with the official launch. But I can be wrong.^^

      Nikola 2 years ago Reply

    • I know no more than you, but I highly doubt they’d limit the return of bikes at any time. Limiting borrowing at drunk o’clock seems sensible to me though, if the goal is to reduce system maintainence costs.

      Paul 2 years ago Reply

      • Hi Paul. You’re probably exactly right. I’m not sure I’d be more disappointed that there’s four hours of the day (however uncommon) where the system is unavailable, or that the promise of a 24 hour system is a lie! But then, the limited signup period versus flyers basically saying anyone can ride from tomorrow is also conflicting. PR team, please.

        Philip Partington 2 years ago Reply

    • Remember the “White”Bicycles they had in San Francisco in the 60s?Same idea here.

      NoelharrisNoelharris 6 months ago Reply

  • Dear Niko, can you please organize a bike tour with a representative of the City of Seoul for the purpose of demonstrating on how we are supposed to safely and legally navigate on 2,3,4,5 등급 bike paths? Imho all that money that went into paint and street signs is a pure waste of resources and is creating a false sense of safety. Also, there seems to be no enforcement at all.

    Matthias 2 years ago Reply

  • I saw these last week and thought they launched while I was away from Korea last year. Cool to see it is new. Thanks for the detailed post!

    Julio moreno 2 years ago Reply

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  • Dear Niko,
    Thanks for your great article, and I observed during the past winter period that many bike stations with the very practical looking green/white bikes sprung up in Yeouido, where I live. I almost could not wait for spring, and start using the bike-sharing system. So yesterday when the cherry trees really started to fully bloom, I tried to register as a member and make my payment for a full year. Alas, this was not going to happen. As it turned out, if you want to register on the English-language part of the site, you can go through the whole process, until you arrive at “payment”. There it turns out that, as a foreigner, you can only register as a user for 7 days, and when I tried to get information on that, I had to go through the general Seoul city service to get interpretation to talk to the bike-sharing department. After an hour of talking and trying, we had to conclude that the English language program only takes into account tourists as foreigners and no residents. My next step has to be to fill out my name in the Korean language on the Korean website and try to register again, which will only be possible when the system has forgotten my foreign membership and mobile phone number.

    Jack Damen 2 years ago Reply

    • Hi Jack,

      Having gone through some similar difficulties myself last year, I would have hoped they’d improved that part of the system by now. I can’t speak to the Chinese or Japanese versions of the site, but the English version is certainly lacking.

      The system is also rather inflexible, as you’ve unfortunately seen. The T-money mileage system is only available with a one year membership, something I did not realize at the time I signed up for the six month plan. Although I caught the problem within 24 hours, they said there was nothing to be done but wait six months.

      Enjoy the spring weather on those bikes. :)

      Philip Partington 2 years ago Reply

  • Nikola,

    The system currently doesn’t work for foreigners using an Iphone and a Korean credit card.

    Were you able to actual use the bikes?

    It appears it only works for Koreans or foreign tourists, but not for foreign residents.

    Steve Austin 2 years ago Reply

    • I am not Nikola but used this last weekend without a problem. The system did not accept my Korean debit, so I simply used my American debit/credit card and it worked without an issue. I am not sure about Korean credit cards as I do not have one, but I registered my T-money for the verification, bought a voucher on my iphone in front of the bikes in Yeoui-do, and it worked like a charm.

      Julio C Moreno 2 years ago Reply

      • Thanks for your response.

        The paygate system won’t accept my Korean Credit Card, so though I am a foreign resident of Korea, it looks like the only way to use it is by registering a foreign credit card (which isn’t ideal).

        Steve Austin 2 years ago Reply

        • Hi Steve,

          The system does allow foreigners to register Korean credit cards, as I can attest to. However, let me briefly outline my experience, so that you might pinpoint where the source of difficulty lies.

          I signed up for the service on the first day of operation, since which time the site has gained both iPhone support and an English version. Therefore, I signed up on my computer (Mac) using the Korean version of the site, Further, to register the postpaid T-money feature of the credit card (KEB Hana), I had to use an Android phone at the bike station.

          While I’m fairly confident that signup for foreigners with Korean cards is still possible, you may find yourself unable to do so from your iPhone, either for the initial registration, or for the postpaid features. Of course, it may also be a case of the bank from which your card is issued.

          Hope this helps.

          Philip Partington 2 years ago Reply

          • Thank you Philip and Julio for replying to the comment. I used the bike system but only with the card of my Korean wife (because my phone is on her name).

            Nikola 2 years ago

  • As a keen bike lover, especially when travelling in the city, I used this system a lot when I visited Seoul during last November and this March. As a foreign tourist I gotta say I looove it! I still remember the joy at a chilly night riding all the way from Yoeuido, along the Hangang Park, through Yangwha Bridge, took a coffee in Cafe Gurunaru, then return the bike at Hapjeong station.

    And I gotta say, I think the bikes and docks are still in rather good conditions from my observations in this March.

    But, why there wasn’t any route expansions as were promised last year…

    Wen 2 years ago Reply

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