[Viewpoint] Thoughts on the number 95 bus
There are some things or situations which can make you realize how narrow-minded you are.
For me, it is the bus that I commute on to work. It is a red express bus connecting Ilsan in Gyeonggi with Seoul.
The one-way trip takes about an hour, and I always want to avoid the pain of standing for the entire journey. You have to be very lucky to find an empty seat on the bus in the morning.
And if the bus is full, I have to position myself well. I have to guess who will get off on my way to work so that I can take their newly vacated spot.
But I began to doubt my powers of judgment when people whom I had initially guessed would get off after a few stops stayed on until Gwanghwamun.
My call was usually based on a person’s looks and clothes, which shows how narrow-minded I can be at times.
And then I became embarrassed by my overwhelming desire to sit down and jealousy toward those on the bus who had managed to nab a seat even though they had boarded after me.
I began to think that such a situation was unjust. Once, as I stood clinging to a bus strap, I even thought up an idea for modifying how tickets were given out on the bus.
An electronic transportation system, I mused, should allocate empty seats to passengers according to when they boarded, rather like the system used for trying to get a table at a popular restaurant.
These thoughts came to me in a special year. It’s the 60th birthday of Seoul’s metro buses. In August 1949, 273 buses from 17 companies obtained business permits from the Seoul city government and launched operations.
I first came to Seoul in 1977 to go to college, and the memory of the capital’s bus system back then is still fresh in my mind.
After I got off the train at Cheongnyangni Station, I took the number 95 bus for an hour and half to Sillim-dong. The fare was 25 won.
“Prices in Seoul are cheap. I took the bus for an hour and half, but it only cost 25 won,” I told friends, and they all laughed. The fare was not cheap, and Seoul’s roads were a traffic nightmare.
Time has passed and I sometimes drive to work or take a taxi, but the bus is still my main means of transportation.
As of now, 5 million passengers ride 7,600 buses from 68 bus companies in Seoul. The figures are even greater if we add express buses for Gyeonggi.
I’m probably not the only “narrow-minded” passenger on the buses each morning, but some people probably use their trips as a way to find inner composure, just like the poet Kim Yong-taek.
“If you are determined to get a seat on a bus, that’s all you will care about. You will feel like everyone with a seat is taking up your space, so you might begin to feel things are not that fair.
“As for me, I give up any thought of getting a seat as soon as I board a full bus. It might be uncomfortable and difficult, but I just stop thinking about sitting. This decision allows me to free my mind. I feel comfortable and free, and I can look more easily at the people with seats,” he wrote.
With time on my hands to think on the bus, I’ve come to see a bus as a representation of Korea’s political, economical and social circles.
For example, the bus fare is always a social issue. A politician often feels embarrassed for not knowing the exact bus fare when asked while campaigning for election.
The bus attendant, a job no longer in existence today, forms a chapter in the history of Korea’s labor movement. And in 1977, a bus company had a 145-square-meter dormitory where 221 bus attendants lived together.
This became an issue at the National Assembly.
When he was Seoul city mayor, President Lee Myung-bak adopted drastic reform plans for bus-only lanes and the semi-public bus operation system. His ideas met great political success.
Even liberals admitted after the presidential election defeat that while they were engaged in meaningless discussions, Lee won public support for his transportation reforms and the Cheonggye Stream restoration.
I think the recent debate over the step backward of Korea’s democracy is empty. The discussion makes politics even more meaningless. It is actually better to study a country’s bus system.
Wouldn’t it be better for politicians to study the politics and sociology of the bus to win more votes? All they need do is board a bus.
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Noh Jae-hyun