[EDITORIALS]Seoul traffic: good start

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[EDITORIALS]Seoul traffic: good start

Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-bak drew up a plan to improve the capital city's transportation system two months after he took office. He wants to improve the convenience of public transportation to give drivers an alternative to crowding the city's busy streets. The plan is a step in the right direction, but we are watching how the city government will overcome obstacles to implementing the plan.

Seoul's present transportation and traffic system was designed in the early 1980s when the city had 200,000 cars on the streets. These days, there are 2 million cars in the city. Seoul's roads have already reached their capacity to accommodate traffic. Because of the number of vehicles on the city's streets, the average speed of a car in downtown Seoul has dropped from 30 kilometers an hour in the 1980s to 10 kilometers per hour now. In 2000, the losses incurred by the traffic congestion amounted to 4.7 trillion won ($3.9 billion) in Seoul, nearly half the nation's total losses from traffic congestion.

Mr. Lee wants to improve the bus and subway route systems and to set up better transfer connections so more people will use public transportation. Now, 53 percent of Seoulites move around by bus and subway; the city government wants to raise the number to 75 percent of commuters.

Dividing bus routes into main lines and branch lines and introducing shuttle buses to connect the suburbs to central Seoul will, the city says, speed travel and make connections more convenient. That would induce more people who are now discontent with detours, inconsistent schedules and unfriendly service to use the buses. The city government also plans to extend subway operations an additional hour and to introduce express lines in order to attract suburban riders. The plan is linked to the city's project to restore the Cheonggye creek.

Bus operators are already protesting the plan, but the city should open public bidding on popular bus lines and subsidize unpopular ones in order to balance the finances of the bus industry. Some passengers may also pay higher fares and be inconvenienced because they would have to transfer more often. The city should think more about such issues.
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