Air pollution and fine dust are subjects of interest and hand-wringing for the Moon Jae-in administration as well as the rest of Korea. To keep the situation under control, the government has come up with solutions, such as the alternative day-no-driving policy, as well as setting some days during which transportation is free. The effectiveness of both is questionable.
A dust particle is categorized according to its size. Fine particulate matter is when the radius of the dust is less than 2.5 micrometers. The Korean Meteorological Administration (KMA) offers air pollutants as the most critical cause for dense fine particle matter above the Korean peninsula. Thus was born the administration’s ceaseless effort to reduce fine dust through air pollution policies such as free public transportation days, alternativeday-no-driving policy, and a reduction in construction site operation hours, some of which have been proven ineffective in fulfilling their original intents.
The short-lived free public transportation days made an abrupt appearance in Seoul on the third week of January and left behind a trail of doubt. First, on January 15, there was a 1.8 percent reduction in traffic use. On January 17, a mere 1.7 percent reduction, whereas the cost of enacting the policy reached an estimated 5 billion won per day, straight from taxes. Furthermore, free public transportation days have already been proven cost-ineffective in Paris, France, which abolished them after a total of eight days in operation.
The Seoul City administration has explained that the free public transportation policy has been the initiation for active participation in the alternative-day-no-driving policy. However, the connection between the two is still a mystery to many. The alternative day-no-driving policy also has its fair share of defects. The policy essentially targets those who work for the government or drive to and from government offices and not all the other drivers. As this only affects parking spaces in government buildings, other actions need to be taken, such as making a reward system or imposing restrictions in parking space entrances.
Moreover, the policies need to be more specific. More scrutiny must be made according to the regional differences that exist within the Seoul metropolitan area, as well as all over the nation instead of framing all problems under the unified name of the Emergency Reduction Measures. Within Seoul, different areas contain more factories, especially in industrial districts and outside of Seoul; cities such as Incheon, that are the centers of trade, also lack the attention they need. More policies need to reflect the different colors of each city and district.
In order to raise credibility for fine dust related actions, the administration needs to pay closer attention to the field of public health, not only the field of politics. The dust that originates mostly from cars contain metallic compounds and ion components that have fatal consequences on our health that lead to dysfunctions in the heart and the rest of the respiratory system. Providing proper masks that can filter fine particulate matter and educating people of their proper usage could be an alternative. The administration should release fine dust level statistics that are measured during rush hours, although it may have higher rates than other hours during the day. The alarms must be more specified as well, with hour-by-hour reports instead of a plain scale of good or bad.
Being a relatively new presence in governmental policies, fine dust measures definitely have room for improvement and ways to acquire more credibility from citizens. With more analysis in the characteristics of each locality and further amendments in the current policies, the helplessness and anxieties people get from even just hearing about the presence of such fatal matter that we have no power over may be relieved.