Sunday, July 28, 2013

Public Transport policies in Korea

First published in The Hindu Business Line, July 25th 
Korea’s traffic policies, beginning with the reform of its public transportation system, and integrated use of information technology, has been acknowledged for its effectiveness and benchmarked by many other countries.

The transport network in Seoul is famed for its impressive standard of operational capacity and efficiency, and for incorporating the latest technology to make commuting convenient.

Before the public transport reforms of 2004, the bus system in Seoul faced severe problems as few people used it, leading to a deficit, that affected the quality of service. The reforms introduced an integrated operation system along with Bus Rapid Transit.

The government introduced what it calls a ‘quasi-public operation system’, under which it manages buses and routes that private companies own and operate, and reimburses bus companies on the basis of kilometres of service instead of operational revenue from passenger trips.

As observed by Lee Jae-joon, Associate Research Fellow, Korea Transport Institute, the most significant change, however, was the application of information technology in bus operations.

IT Innovation

The system than it is in place today enables real-time management of bus operation information and punctuality, and prevents reckless driving. In addition, the Transport Operation and Information Service (TOPIS) functions as a comprehensive traffic management center that gathers and processes all traffic information.

This enables buses to run at definite intervals. The installation of GPS devices on board allows traffic control centres to determine the real-time location of running buses. It helps avoid having buses on the same route running in groups.

“From the passengers’ point of view, it is an innovative service because they can expect buses to arrive within a definite time. Also, a communication system between traffic control centers and drivers was established for quick responses in the case of emergencies,” he noted.

With the rapid spread of smartphones, it is easy to access public transport information by using smartphones. Recently, heating systems were introduced at bus stops, keeping passengers waiting for a bus warm. In addition, ‘U-Shelters’, highly technology-intensive places, connecting IT and weather/air sensors, have been established.

Among other things, these shelters provide useful information on the local area and stores, weather and air quality as well as bus arrivals. There is an interactive kiosk, called ‘Digital View’, at almost every major bus stop and subway station. The kiosks are provided by Daum, a major Korean search portal. The screens display a subway map, a satellite map service, nearby attractions as well as news and entertainment content. It also has a VoIP service (voice over Internet Protocol).

In addition to the digital kiosks, there is a growing number of digital billboards, advertisements and commercial displays, many of which are interactive and touch-screen capable.

Another innovation is the introduction of the smart card system for electronic payment of public transport fares — bus, subway, taxi, etc — and charges for facilities such as parking lots.

The card creates benefits, such as the reduction in waiting time at bus stops and transparent accounting of bus operations. More importantly, as Lee points out, along with the bus reforms, Seoul has an integrated public transport system for subways and buses. Under this new system, fares are based only on distance travelled, regardless of the transport mode

Integrated system

Besides the capital, Seoul, there is also a national integrated transport system that improves the efficiency, integration and connectivity of the network. All expressways in Korea (total length 3,906 km) are equipped with a variety of Integrated Transportation System (ITS) services, including traffic management, public transport service, electronic payment, traffic control centers and traffic information.

ITS currently provides a basic information broadcasting service, incident management service, and freeway traffic flow control service. The traffic management service collects data from roads and running vehicles, controls the traffic flow, and provides travelers with traffic information. Based on real-time information, road users can make a decision on the choice of route to their destinations, alleviating traffic congestion and increasing average speeds.

The automatic traffic enforcement service encourages lawful driving and monitors traffic light violations, speed limit violations, illegal parking, overloading, and bus-only lane violations.

Korea has also introduced an electronic toll collection system, Hi-Pass, which allows drivers to pay highway tolls without stopping. This has been a boon for drivers while improving the efficiency of toll collection.

The Hi-Pass system has been installed at 344 tollgates in South Korea. Currently, 5.6 million vehicles — 50.8 per cent of registered cars — use the non-stop toll payment system.