The Owl Bus hits the road againJANG JOO-YOUNG
The author is a national news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
The Owl Bus, Seoul’s late-night bus service, first started its trial run in April 2013. Starting with two routes, it was expanded to nine routes that September. In the first year of operation, 6,000 people used the buses daily. People who have to travel at late hours could save on the expensive taxi fare by riding the Owl Bus. Among the 33 major policies implemented by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, citizens chose the Owl Bus as the No. 1 in the top 10 Seoul news of the year.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, bus operation scaled back temporarily. Since December 2021, the city government reduced the mass transit operation by 20 percent after 10 p.m. on weekdays in accordance with the central government’s social distancing policy. As distancing was eased in mid-March, mass transit operation returned to normal. With the number of new positive cases declining, the central government is expected to lift all disease control measures except the indoor mask requirement. The Seoul metropolitan government also decided to further expand the Owl Bus operations.
Seoul plans to drastically increase the Owl Bus operation from 72 buses in 9 routes to 100 buses in 14 routes. In 2019, average daily passengers on Owl Buses was 13,000, but last year, it decreased to 6,000 due to the pandemic. However, with the government’s gradual return to normalcy in November 2021, the number of passengers has grown to 10,000 daily. With the Owl Bus expansion, the daily capacity is to increase from 15,000 to 20,000. Using big data analysis of the passengers, crowded routes will be adjusted.
The Owl Bus is a means of transportation that cannot be explained simply by nighttime travel convenience. KBS’s “Documentary Three Days” featured stories of Owl Bus passengers in the episode “72 Hours on Owl Bus While You Are Sleeping.” Passengers include people of various ages and professions, a driver-for-hire who works from midnight to morning, small business owners going to pick up goods at morning markets and day laborers. The pandemic must have caused significant changes to their lives. As the Owl Bus operation expands, I wish their hopes and opportunities also increase.