Improving Transportation in the Seoul Metropolitan Area: Bus System Reform

Global Delivery Initiative
Global Delivery Initiative • 31 August 2021

Convenient and sustainable transportation systems are important for large cities, but providing such service is often as challenging as it is desirable. The population of the Seoul Metropolitan Area (SMA) expanded more than fivefold between 1955 and 2005; the SMA now houses more than 23 million residents, which is equivalent to 48 percent of the Korean population as of 2010. The number of trips per day within the SMA expanded accordingly, reaching 29.4  million in 2003. However, the public transportation system in the SMA was unable to keep pace with the growth in traffic. The SMA’s congestion cost was estimated at ₩6.7 trillion (approximately US$5.5 billion) in 2006. 

To tackle this issue, the city government of Seoul began preparing a reform of the public transportation system in 2002, leading to the launch of the Public Transportation Reform System in 2004. The reform was comprehensive, systematic, and well organized. Its main focus was a change in the public bus system to enhance connectivity with the Seoul Metropolitan Subway (Metro) and customer service quality by incorporating information and communications technology (ICT). A number of institutional mechanisms for conflict management and consensus building were key to executing the complex reform in such a short period of time. The results of the reform were broadly positive in terms of quality of service, efficiency, and revenue intake, despite some caveats concerning the cost of the new system.