Radical action needed for futureThanks to rising living standards, Korea is soon expected to have 20 million cars on its roads, which means nearly half of the country’s population would own a car. Traffic accidents and congestion are worsening because of the increasing number of cars on the road. At the same time, the government is trying to push a sustainable green policy to curb energy spending and cut greenhouse gas emissions. As Korean society’s elderly population grows ever faster, we will need better and more convenient public transportation for the elderly and the disabled.
A large, dense city like Seoul needs to come up with traffic solutions that encourage people to use public transportation rather than drive their own cars. The city government cannot go on expanding roads and building public parking spaces to accommodate the ballooning number of drivers. Seoul needs radical change to its traffic policy away from private vehicles and toward public transportation. At the same time, it needs to continue to invest in building beltway roads outside the city core to facilitate logistics and ease congestion.
Buses and subways are Seoul’s most common modes of public transportation. Buses are easily accessible and have a great number of routes. They are flexible, although they can be unpredictable because travel times rely entirely on road conditions. Even exclusive bus lanes do not guarantee buses can arrive on time. Subways and rail routes can save commuting time, but they are very expensive to build. They are the optimal public transportation system for large cities with high population density.
The Seoul city government is mulling over building a light rail transit system. However, it is not planning highly controversial and unsightly elevated light railway systems, like other cities have built.
Any light rail network would require huge investments in construction. Such construction will cause immediate stress on the city’s finances, but considering the density of residents living around the planned transit routes, it is unlikely the light rail system will end up being unprofitable like the transit lines in Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi Province. If light rail lines are linked with public bus routes, many people will use it for getting around.
The new light rail lines will help upgrade living standards for residents in areas like Nangok and Sillim districts in Gwanak, southern Seoul, where subway lines are not easily accessible. Light railways are not pork-barrel projects. They contribute to public welfare by reducing commuting time in rush hour and improving transportation convenience.
The new lines should be built after a close study of transit times, accessibility and waiting times, as well as designing escalators and elevators, so transferring to buses can be on time and easy.
Convenient transit connections can only create new demand for public transportation and help the operation of the rail system. The city should also study investing in the railway system around the capital to ease road traffic radically. The government set the basic fare for new light rail at 1,050 won - the same as the subway lines - which should help boost demand and profit private operators in the longer run.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is a professor of transportation engineering at Keimyung University and head of the Korean Society of Transportation.
By Kim Ki-hyuk