[Letters] My solutions for Seoul trafficI’ve now spent almost seven months in Seoul, Korea. During this time, I have had the pleasure to visit lots of places in Korea, either by public transportation or by car. What’s not been a pleasure is the overcrowded roads that I’ve experienced. I’m originally from Norway. In Norway, rush hour and traffic jams can be witnessed but only in a modest degree, I guess that also depends on whom you ask.
After I came to Seoul, I understood that I had to widen my definition of what a traffic jam is. Seoul traffic jams are beyond anything else I’ve experienced: basically rush hour is not only in the morning and after work, its 24-7. I understand there will naturally be more traffic jams in Seoul with 13 million dwellers, compared to Oslo’s 600,000 dwellers.
However, it doesn’t make sense to have traffic jams almost all the time. If you are planning a trip outside of Seoul, it is hard to calculate the expected time you will use to get to the designated destination.
Your GPS will tell you that it will take two hours but you might end up spending six hours on a trip. All the things you planned for the weekend? Just forget them and choose the coolest activities.
Taking aside my frustration about the traffic situation in Korea, it’s a huge waste of every country’s most valuable resource: people’s time and human capital. It should also be a major concern for politicians and economists, not only citizens.
There are simply more people who want to be on the roads than Seoul can handle. Even though the government has made efforts to build more roads, such as the enormous bridges along the Han River, it’s simply not enough.
A single person’s decision to take the car, instead of using public transportation, dosn’t say much but when this multiplies to millions, it has huge consequences for everyone. Originally, it might take Mr. Kim one hour to drive to work, and maybe 1:30 hours to take the subway. So Mr. Kim chooses the car.
However, if his decision affects thousands of other people being delayed a couple of minutes, or even seconds, Mr. Kim’s time reduction of 30 minutes will not compensate other people’s costs. He’s decision costs more than it saves. Let’s say that even if it takes more time to use the car than the subway, many people still choose the car instead. Cars are more comfortable and it gets you to the door.
The obvious consequence of the traffic situation in Seoul is the reduction in people’s leisure time. Koreans are already working the most hours among the OECD countries. With 12-hour days, plus the time it takes to commute to and from work, there is not much time left to be spent with your family and for other activities, which is the reality for many Seoul dwellers.
So, how to fix the problem?
Make people pay more, especially during rush hour.
Choosing your car instead of the subway should be much more expensive.
How to do this? Well the government could build more tollbooths and increase the toll fees. I don’t believe this would solve all the traffic problems in Seoul but it would surely help. It would also be a source of government income and good for the environment.
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a Korean-Norwegian, currently studying Korean language at Yonsei University.