Seoul plans to merge two main subway corporations

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Seoul plans to merge two main subway corporations

The Seoul Metropolitan Government announced on Wednesday that it planned to overhaul the city’s subway system by integrating its two public operators by the end of 2016 in a bid to maximize service efficiency.

Seoul Metro currently manages subway lines No. 1 to 4, while the Seoul Metropolitan Rapid Transit Corporation (SMRTC) oversees lines No. 5 to 8.

There are 37 subway transfer stations in Seoul, and 33 have two or more stationmasters, which some critics have pointed out is ineffective, both in terms of operation and management. The city’s main goal is to upgrade the subway system’s safety and services by curtailing unnecessary spending and relocating personnel, which will also help to shrink a massive deficit.

According to the city government, the combined debt of the two public corporations adds up to 4.6 trillion won ($4.2 billion), and that figure is only expected to rise considering 1.6 trillion is spent per year to upgrade older facilities.

Free rides for the elderly also spurred losses: free-riders accounted for 30 percent of all passengers last year, up from 13 percent in 2009, the Seoul government said.

The merger is expected to help the two organizations save some money - they don’t need to buy separate equipment, for example - and the Seoul government also plans to renovate some transfer stations with new businesses, accommodations and cultural facilities. With multiple operators in one station, those plans would have previously not been possible.

“When Hong Kong’s subway operators, MTR and KCR, integrated, revenue from the commercial area and advertisements sharply increased,” Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon told the press on Wednesday. “I hope we will see similar results.”

According to the municipal government, a team will be organized for the exclusive purpose of reforming the subway system. The project is set to begin in January. The team is slated to revise all regulations by the end of 2015 and conclude its work by the end of 2016.

Since 1994, two public organizations have overseen subway operations. When lines No. 5 through 8 opened, the Seoul government moved to set up a new corporation, the SMRTC, in an aim to improve the subway system by creating competition.

The local government’s decision to merge the two was based on the determination that, over the past 20 years, the inefficiency from the dual system was actually greater than the merit of competition.

The city added in its briefing Wednesday that the labor unions of the two organizations have also agreed to the new plan, wherein workers will be involved in the decision-making process under the integrated management. It also promised not to forcibly reduce the number of employees.

But some still expressed concern. “The number of total employees will increase, but the positions for those who are promoted may decrease,” said an SMRTC official. “Some employees are worried that they may end up performing [new or] unfamiliar tasks.”

BY KIM BONG-MOON, KOO HYE-JIN [bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]



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