Reasons galore to love, bemoan, Seoul’s subway

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Reasons galore to love, bemoan, Seoul’s subway

Though Seoul may not get as much recognition as Tokyo and Moscow when it comes to its subway system, there are plenty of reasons for Seoulites to be proud of it.

According to industry sources, the Seoul Metropolitan Subway is one of the most heavily used rapid-transit systems in the world, with well over 8 million passenger trips a day. The system is efficient and easy to use, and has grown significantly since its establishment in 1974. Most subway stations now have automated screen doors that prevent passengers from falling or jumping onto the tracks below. And many have digital touch-screen terminals for access to free Internet searches and city maps.

But even the best subway systems have their problems, and Seoul is not immune. Recent video clips released online show subway passengers drinking alcohol, purposely disturbing others and using foul language when talking to the elderly.

One incident that has the online community buzzing is the case of a beggar, captured on video, who used a phone while asking for money - and sure enough, he pulled out an iPhone. People are now questioning the legitimacy of beggars on the subway.

Another problem on the Seoul subway is peddlers trying to sell various items. The merchants say that’s how they make a living, even though selling things on public transport is illegal.

“I don’t like the way the peddlers yell on the subway,” said Park Kun-woo, a Seoulite who commutes by subway every day. “It disturbs other people.”

Though there have been some measures to combat illegal peddlers, including 100,000 won ($89.50) fines, they are still hawking their wares, searching for people who look susceptible to persuasion. Preaching on the subway is another issue. Song Han-ah used to read when riding line No. 4 to school to study for the College Scholastic Ability Test. But she knows all too well that studying almost always gets disturbed by preachers.

“When I was studying English on the subway by listening to conversations [on my MP3 player], I couldn’t hear a single word because of people preaching the gospel,” Song said. “It is frustrating to take the subway because of loud noises.”

But Alice Oh, an expatriate in Seoul, said that the metro always seems to be expanding and upgrading its services and is easy for foreigners to navigate.

“There are English, Chinese and Japanese written on the subway signs so foreigners can easily know what station they are in,” Oh said. “In Tokyo, I had the hardest time getting around because it was not very foreigner friendly. Also, the subway is very clean compared to other countries. In Paris, subways often smell bad and it was not uncommon to see a homeless person sleeping inside.”

Oh also said that Seoul’s subway is getting faster, especially in the case of line No. 9. “It’s fast,” Oh said. “I’ve been on subways in Europe that were much slower.”

But some inconveniences can still be found. For example, it can often take up to 10 minutes to transfer lines, and that makes some people prefer buses.

Operator Seoul Metro says it’s taking steps to ensure the continuing safety and comfort of passengers.

For example, the security maintenance group at Seoul Metro said it is preventing overcrowding during rush hour by making announcements to advise passengers to take the next train if the current one is too packed.

“It is important for riders to follow the rules and etiquette of the subway in order for a safe ride,” said a Seoul Metro official.

This article was written with assistance of staff reporter Lee Eun-joo.


By Shim Eun-hye, Choi Yoo-jin [enational@joongang.co.kr]

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