[HOT ITEM]For regular commuters, here's a no-brainer

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[HOT ITEM]For regular commuters, here's a no-brainer

Lee Hyun-soo, a 26-year-old college graduate, recently found a position in the PR department at LG Household & Healthcare after two years of constant job searching. He says he is happy with the work, but what bothers him is the commute. Living in Donam-dong, northeastern Seoul, Mr. Lee has to make it to his office in Yeoksam-dong, far south of the Han River, before 7:30 a.m.

It is a complicated commute. After much trial and error, he found the fastest route - ride a local shuttle bus (which costs 300 won, or about 25 cents) to the No. 2 subway line (700 won), making one transfer.

One of the few things that ameliorates this difficult trek is his credit card, which also serves as an electronic transfer card - allowing him onto the subways and buses quickly, without the need for a pocketful of change. He was once late for work because a bus driver would not let him on when, changeless, he had only a 10,000 won bill. Never again. "Now I feel that I cannot get around without this transportation card," Mr. Lee told the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition.

Not only does the card eliminate the need for standing in line to buy tokens and carrying around change, it also gives him a discount. Over the course of a day, it adds up to a 200 won savings - that could be over 70,000 won a year.

Mr. Lee doesn't put a lot of thought into this new convenience, he just appreciates that all he has to do when he takes public transportation is put his wallet against the card reader. When he passes through a subway gate, the card account number is read by the gate and the charge is automatically added to his account. Mr. Lee settles the fare at the end of each month as a single charge on his credit card bill.

According to Suji Kim, a representative of the Asia Pacific Smart Card Association Korea, Seoul is the first city in the world to launch a contactless electronic card-based automatic fare collection system. Eighty percent of Seoul residents, that's slightly more than 10 million people, travel on public transportation. In 2001, there were 8 million bus commuters and 6.5 million subway commuters in Seoul.

To digest the traveling population, Seoul has 139 bus companies, operating 13,600 buses, and 4 subway operators, Seoul Metropolitan Subway Corp., Seoul Metropolitan Rapid Transit Corp., Korean National Railroad and Incheon Rapid Transit Corp., with 294 stations and 10 lines. The electronic cards first came into use in 1996 for the city's bus system.

In addition to electronic transfer cards, stored-value cards are available. Today, there are 14 million prepaid public transportation cards in circulation, cards that you prepay for usage and reload at designated kiosks.

The smart card business seems to be prosperous in Busan as well, with the launch of electronic cash schemes with some of Busan's local banks. Called the MYbi card, this smart card is designed to be a general citizen's card, providing various types of services, including transportation, public services, e-commerce and retail payments, according to Ms. Kim at the Smart Card Association.

But it seems that people in Seoul, not to mention Busan citizens, are not even aware that they are using smart card-based items daily. Asked if he knows about smart cards, Mr. Lee answered guardedly, "Smart car? I really want to have a ride in it, but I'm not sure it's available here in Seoul."

by Chun Su-jin

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