Red buses apply no-standing rule

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Red buses apply no-standing rule

Seoul’s bus stops have seen fewer pedestrians due to urbanites’ heavy reliance on the city’s extensive subway system, but many of them were packed with long lines of anxious passengers in yesterday’s morning rush.

Commuters traveling between downtown Seoul and suburban areas had to wait longer than usual, as a new traffic rule banning standing room on buses traveling between the capital and the nearby metropolitan area went into effect.

Passengers may no longer take red buses once all seats are occupied. Until now, they were allowed to take the faster buses while standing.

Introduced following the Sewol ferry disaster, the new measure is intended to enhance passengers’ safety. Some had expressed concerns before that overly packed express buses could be vulnerable to accidents. But despite good intentions, many commuters complained that the government implemented a half-baked system without proper alternative measures.

“I could usually take the red buses in five minutes, but today, I had to let go of 20 buses,” said a 34-year-old man who commutes from Pangyo, Gyeonggi, to Gwanghwamun in central Seoul. “I think I’m going to be late for work.”

The express buses, which are red, quickly became popular among those moving between Seoul and suburban areas because they travel longer distances and make fewer stops to shorten the time. Some passengers were informed of the change and left for work earlier than usual, but their planning was to no avail.

“I learned that fewer places will be available because of the new policy, so I arrived here one hour earlier than usual,” said Koo Hyung-geun, a 42-year-old man who was waiting for a bus in Suwon’s Jangan District, Gyeonggi. “I have been waiting here for more than an hour.”

The municipal governments - Seoul Metropolitan Government, Gyeonggi Provincial Government and Incheon Metropolitan City Government - announced that they have added 188 red buses in an effort to reduce inconvenience for passengers.

But commuters still expressed skepticism. “It doesn’t make a big difference,” said Kim Sung-yeong, a 34-year-old woman who commutes between Gyeonggi and Seoul.

“Think of the number of passengers that each bus can take now. It’s only about 40. Before the new rule, bus drivers on the existing buses allowed 10-20 people to stand, in addition to the available seating. The new buses can’t make up for it.”

Many passengers also pointed out that things will only get worse when summer vacation ends.

“Now it’s vacation, so university students are not counted,” Koo said. “But imagine if the students also wait to board express buses after [summer] vacation. It will be a tragic hell ride.”

However, to make up for the inconvenience, some bus drivers did allow for standing room yesterday.

“Many riders poured out their anger, so I felt obliged to allow more passengers in even though all the seats were already occupied,” said a bus driver who only gave his family name Yoon. “I tried to comply with the rule at first, but later local government officials came and encouraged me to allow for extra passengers.”

A government official admitted that the new system is in need of more consultation. “I know there was some confusion,” said Seo Hoon-taek, the head of the division in charge of transportation policy at the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport. “Adding more buses is only a temporary measure. We will come up with a more long-term plan.”


BY PARK EUN-JEE, MIN KYUNG-WON [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]

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