[VIEWPOINT]When Subway and Citizens Smiled

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[VIEWPOINT]When Subway and Citizens Smiled

When there is snow in Seoul, the mayor and public employees have to work through the night. It was especially so at the recent tremendous snowfall, the biggest in 32 years. All measures were taken.

What grade can Seoul's capability in snow clearings receive? This is the time to find out. Seoul's capability to clear out snow is quite considerable in the system of equipment, human resources and management. It can at least clear away snow so that there won't be much traffic disturbance in the principal roads of more than four lanes.

Many efforts were made to achieve this much. First of all, as respects equipment preparation, the ward offices had started to furnish Unimog, a multi-functional snowplow and a German product with high efficiency, 10 years ago when I was a government-appointed mayor. Now there are 68 Unimogs. When I became an elected mayor, I secured highly efficient potassium chloride sprinklers; now there are 77 of these machines on 24-hour emergency standby.

The management systems are also pretty scientific. In the snow clearing situation room at the City Hall, there is a closed-circuit television connected with Ganghwa island. Snow in Seoul mostly comes from the west, and it never fails to snow in Seoul in two hours, if there is snow at Ganghwa island. Therefore, Seoul makes preparations for a two-hour alert. There are no problems in the personnel sector. Seoul operates a snow-clearing situation room 24 hours a day, 100 days a year.

The problem is that these measures need to be supplemented in alleys and sidewalks, where snow clearing equipment cannot enter. In the future, we will provide snow clearing equipment such as hand barrows in hilly sections.

It should be considered whether Seoul has equipment prepared to clear out all kinds of heavy snow without any problem. Money and economic feasibility are pivotal problems. Simple comparisons with New York and Boston where snowfalls are heavier is profitless. This winter, Seoul has had 59 centimeters (two feet) of snow. New York has had 2 meters.

On the day of the heaviest snowfall, 600 million won ($480 thousand) worth of potassium chloride was sprinkled. This winter the cost of total potassium chloride used was 3 billion won. The costs of equipment purchase are even higher. Therefore, consent from citizens is needed if snow clearing is to be further strengthened. On February 15, it took only half a day for 24 centimeters of snow to fall. Had this situation been left to itself, serious disturbance to traffic was bound to occur. Helping the citizens to go home was urgent.

The subway had been waiting for this. The subway was really valuable. Inducing the citizens to go home in subways was the most efficient solution. First of all, for the citizens to leave their cars, Seoul announced that parking fees of city-operated and public parking lots would be exempted. Also, I came up to carry out free subway services as I inspected the snow clearing spot, and deliberated solutions.

The citizens were enthusiastic about these measures. JoongAng Ilbo wrote the very next day, "The subway did a good job!" I think the citizens were not overjoyed because of free subway rides, but rather moved by the considerate attitude of City Hall, which undertook efforts to take the difficulties of the citizens like their own. The road toward policies of moving the citizens seems to be far away, but it was surprisingly close.

And in the next day, a more surprising incident occurred. In contrast to past experience, the citizens voluntarily cleared away snow in front of their houses, stores and apartments. The tangled web of snow clearing which troubled City Hall began to find its solution.

Afterward, I received many phone calls from citizens. Many said that if it were not for the subway they would have gotten into big trouble. They also said that it was a good opportunity to publicize the subway. It was the day when subway and the citizens smiled together.


The writer is the mayor of Seoul.

by By Goh Kun

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