[Viewpoint] Motorcycle madness on Seoul streets

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[Viewpoint] Motorcycle madness on Seoul streets

Motorcycle riding on sidewalks is especially concentrated during the holiday season, when there are a lot of deliveries. This Chuseok, or Korean Thanksgiving, was no exception.

They were actually worse than usual, because the holidays were shorter, and apparently the amount of merchandise for Chuseok delivery was the largest ever this year: a total of around 100 million boxes. This led to many busy motorcycles pouring out onto our streets. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say the sidewalks in the old Seoul city area were half full of people, and half full of motorcycles.

But it has been a long time since people have castigated motorcycle riders for driving on sidewalks. Instead, they usually give way to the motorcycles. Ten million Seoul citizens have been tamed by an estimated 50,000 motorcyclists running around the city for business purposes.

The number of violations of the law are increasing, but regulations are soft. Police say it is because motorcycle crimes are “crimes committed for a living.”

One policeman said, “Considering that most motorcyclists are regular people who earn their bread with their bikes, we prefer to guide them, rather than regulate them.” He added, “We spare no effort in holding talks with motorcycle rental companies and delivery companies, and delivering letters from the police superintendent to the lawbreakers.”

The phrase “crimes committed for a living,” which was first used by the previous administration, is the key to the increase in lawbreaking motorcyclists.

The age of motorcycle delivery really started in the beginning of the 1990s, when traffic congestion started to get heavy. When the demand for so-called “quick” service increased in a big way, delivery companies started to appear one after another. In 2000, the quick service market increased to 700 billion won ($598 million). The age of universal delivery had begun, and the term “delivery republic” was coined.

Competition between delivery companies also became fierce. It became commonplace to see motorcycles that sped along the sidewalk. Motorcycles became delivery “warriors” that sped around anytime, anywhere.

Around this time, there was a series of “Who ordered noodles?” advertisements on television, which reflected just how popular delivery had become. In 2004, a broadcasting company launched a law-and-order campaign and pointed out problems related to motorcycles. However, the police said, “If we regulate people who live from hand-to-mouth, they lose their daily income.”

This reflected how tolerant we were, and remain, toward lawbreaking “for a living.”

However, not every crime can be forgiven just because it is committed for somebody’s livelihood. It should not be forgiven if it endangers the safety of citizens, for example. The moment the police give up on regulations, the pedestrian’s right to safety will disappear into thin air, just like motorcycle exhaust. This is one of the reasons some people propose introducing a home rule police system, since it’s so difficult to make use of police power.

Motorcycle deliveries are increasing every year. However, related laws and countermeasures are not making any progress. It took decades before a single public hearing was held. The first hearing on the motorcycle problem was held just this spring. There is no unified national standard applied to motorcycles, either. The police regulate motorcycles on the street, and the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs manages motorcycle registrations; both groups have applied different standards for decades.

It almost makes one question whether the government actually intends to provide a solution. If the government can’t do anything, civilians will be forced to take action. Is that what the government wants?


*The writer is the business news editor of the JoongAng Sunday.

by Lee Jung-jae

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