Bus fares to rise thanks to 52-hour workweek

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Bus fares to rise thanks to 52-hour workweek

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transportation announced Thursday that public bus fares will rise throughout the country before next July.

The price hike is largely due to the 52-hour workweek, the ministry said.

The 52-hour workweek system, established by the Moon Jae-in administration since July, prevents people from working more than 12 hours overtime on top of 40 working hours per week.

The policy is being implemented in stages for bus operators. In July, the previously unlimited weekly working hours for bus drivers were limited to 68 hours per week. From July 2019, they will be limited to 52 hours per week, starting with bus companies employing more than 300 drivers. Smaller companies have until July 2021 to comply.

“With the 52-hour workweek, some bus companies need to change their operation practices,” the ministry said in a statement Thursday.

The drop in working hours per driver translates into a need to hire more drivers to maintain the current frequency of buses.

“The implementation of the policy will require an additional hiring of at least 15,000 bus drivers before 2021,” the ministry said, after it canvassed 329 bus companies operating inter-city and intra-city routes throughout the country.

The ministry said the additional drivers translate into a cost of at least 738.1 billion won ($658.9 million) through 2021.

To meet this cost, the ministry will raise the fare of inter-city buses and provide subsidies.

The operation of intra-city buses, on the other hand, falls under the authority of local governments. The central government will subsidize local governments to consult agencies to determine the level of fare increases per city. The hikes will also take place before July.

Some routes that are not used by many passengers may be scrapped altogether to cut costs. The success of the 52-hour workweek policy for bus drivers also hinges on whether enough drivers will want to stay in the job.

“The drop in working hours per bus driver would mean a drop in their salary,” the ministry said. “This could lead to some drivers leaving the job altogether.”

To counter this phenomenon, some bus companies are calling for a steep rise in bus fares.

“We’re already struggling,” a manager of a bus company told the JoongAng Ilbo. “We will need enough of an increase in the bus fare to ensure people stay in the job and for us to hire more people.”

Bus companies throughout the country have a total annual deficit of 250 billion won, according to the Transportation Ministry.

A drastic fare hike could be unpopular. People take around 6.5 billion public bus trips annually in Korea. It is the second-most used means of transportation in the country after individual cars, according to the ministry.

BY ESTHER CHUNG AND KANG KAP-SAENG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]
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