Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Public Transportation

The Seoul Public Transportation system is efficient, clean and intuitive. It may seem a little daunting and unorganized to someone unfamiliar with its operation so here is a brief overview and a few unspoken rules that will help expedite the experience.

TMoney is the name of the card used in all modes of public transportation, some taxis and in some convenient stores. It uses Radio-frequency identification (RFID) which “is a technology that uses communication via radio waves to exchange data between a reader and an electronic tag attached to an object, for the purpose of identification and tracking.” Essentially, it records credits and debits based on departing and arriving stations. For example, if someone enters at Gangnam Station and exits at Jamsil Station, he or she will be charged 1,000W: 800W for the initial fee which includes a distance of five stations and 200W additionally.
The easiest way to add credit is at any convenient store with the TMoney logo. Simply hand the card with the desired amount in cash. Some buses are equipped with re-chargers. They operate in the same way as the subway re-chargers. Simply place the card on the sensor pad. Follow the onscreen instructions in Korean, English or Chinese. Select the amount and insert the corresponding cash. This can also be done during transfers without interrupting the tracking process.

Subway stations in Seoul are usually underground and clearly marked with the name in Korean and English and the line and exit number. There are extensive shopping areas in most major subway stops accessible to the general public. To access the platform, simply place the card on the sensor to the right side of the turnstile and wait for the fee and remaining balance to display. This usually happens instantaneously. A green arrow will designate which turnstile is available.
There are two types of platform layouts: inside or outside. If the platforms are on the outside, then the major and final destinations will be displayed near the turnstile. If the platform is on the inside then the destinations will be displayed on the platform at the base of the stairs. Most stops have subway maps and a layout of the current stop. Maps are also available at the ticket window.

Every subway car will have four doors. The first and fourth are at the ends. To enter, stand at either end of any door. The center is designated for exiting passengers. Most commuters are not afraid to shove. When all passengers have exited then enter and locate a seat.

Expect to stand during peak hours. Seats at either end of the car are designated for elderly or injured people and pregnant women. It is expected to give up these seats but not so for the others. If someone chooses to give his or her seat, simply stand up and walk away. Injured or pregnant commuters will often take these seats with no delay but the elderly like to initially refuse. This can be deceiving for foreigners which is why it’s easier to walk away.
Commuters do not usually speak loudly. They will often cover their mouths when talking on their cellphones. It will be very common to see commuters reading or watching their portable devices. Occasionally, a solicitor will wander through the car.

Most cars will notify the upcoming stop in Korean and English, the right or left exit and whether or not it is a transfer stop. Some cars will display this information as well. To exit, stand in the center of the doorway and DO NOT HESITATE when the doors open. If there is any sort of confusion or hesitation, exit to the side and allow traffic to flow. Again, commuters are not afraid to shove.
To exit the platform, look for the green arrow, place the card on the sensor then proceed to the desired exit.

Here is a useful link to further expedite traveling via the subway. http://www.smrt.co.kr/Train/Subwaymap/Eng/Subwaymap.jsp
Choose the departing and arriving station from the menu or the map. The time and fare will be calculated. Additionally, the quick transfer car will be displayed if there are any transfers. For example, when traveling from Itaewon (Line 6) to Sinchon (Line 3) the commuter should stand in car 3 door 2.


Buses are everywhere. Fortunately, TMoney transfers also work with buses. Buses are a lot more particular than subways. Here is a brief overview and a lot of tips.

There is no accumulative fee based on distance. It is a flat rate. For example, I will pay 1,800W if I take an express bus from Suwon to Seoul. Then I transfer to a bus charging 900W. I will not have to pay since I am within the thirty minutes. I can also transfer to the subway which is 900W. I will not have to pay any additional fees as long as they do not exceed 1,800W which was my initial rate. So technically, I can ride all over Seoul all day for less than 2,000W. *Will test later.

To enter, use the front door and place your TMoney card on the sensor. You may also use cash which is not an option with the subway. Simply insert the money. Then remove any change. Buses will not accept any bill over 5,000W. The two upcoming stops are announced.

To exit, press the red button until it is lit, use the rear door and place your TMoney card on the sensor. If you fail to do so, you will be charged additionally on your next entry. Transfers are free and only allowed within thirty minutes of exiting (unless it’s the same bus returning from the end of its route).

But, buses are tricky. First, it’s safe to assume that bus drivers hate everyone. It’s a very general and harsh statement but very true. Second, obviously flag down the bus even from the street if necessary. If you want to sit then rush the door because you will not know how many others passengers there are until the bus pulls up. Korean commuters will not hesitate to bump and shove other Korean and foreign commuters so you should not hesitate as well. Third, Koreans hate sitting next to foreigners. This isn’t really a tip, just a helpful fact to know. Fourth, don’t stand up to let someone in while sitting near the aisle. Simply, turn your legs to the side. I was always paranoid that someone would steal my seat if I stood up but that has never happened. I think it for the sake of convenience. Koreans start leaning in their upper body to signify that they want to enter. Standing up would just force them to back up possibly crashing into someone else. Fifth, avoid asking the driver for anything. He or she will usually answers questions about the route. Once, I went somewhere for the first time and asked the driver if it was on the route. He confirmed and I waited. A young woman apparently overheard because she notified me after I passed it. I thanked her and looked at the bus driver while I exited. He was grinning. Other times, they have notified me and I appreciated their kindness. Sixth, stand up and move to the exit before your stop. The bus driver will briefly stop then continue driving. If no one enters the bus then he will leave. The driver is not obligated to let you out if you press the button again and ask him to stop. They will often do so but usually they proceed to the next stop. If you have performed all the exiting procedures correctly and the bus driver doesn’t stop then simply yell, “Ajasi! (for men) or “Agasi! (for women)” as soon as he passes and they will usually pull over. Finally, hold the rails or seat backs while moving through the bus. Bus drivers have pumped the brakes on several occasions with no obstructions ahead while I have been up. I often see drivers consistently do this to other commuters and sneak looks in the mirror. Additionally, they drive insanely so be safe.

Here are a few websites and smart phone apps with routes, real time bus locations and arrivals.
*Insert later

It may seem daunting and very frustrating to use public transportation but it is cheap and efficient. Just remember the rules and everything should be alright.

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