Towards the end of last year, Luxembourg announced that public transport will be free of charge from the start of 2020. In contrast, public transport is not so public anymore in South Korea. As prices for public transport continue to rise, the burden on citizens is becoming heavier each day. While the reasons behind these decisions may differ, one cannot help but compare the opposing changes made to the two countries. People of South Korea look at the citizens of Luxembourg with envy while they try to figure out a way to get about without having to deal with the sudden notice on price increases.
Starting from February 16, the South Korean government declared an increase in the base fare for taxis to 3,800 won. Following this, the government also announced the cost for other forms of public transport to rise significantly. The intercity buses rose by at least 14.5 percent and the express buses rose by 7.95 percent. Considering the fact that, in a recent survey conducted by the Korean Research Institute for Human Settlements (KRIHS), each family in Seoul spends an average of 117,000 won each month only on transport fees, it is no doubt that an increase in public transport will have a great effect on these families and burden them further. This sudden change has taken the citizens of Seoul off-guard and it is an odd but fitting coincidence that Luxembourg has released their resolve on making public transport free.
Luxembourg suffers from heavy traffic congestion due to the fact that cars are a primary means of transportation for commuters. In addition, Luxembourg is a very attractive place for jobs with high housing costs, meaning a lot of people living in neighboring countries commute back and forth using cars everyday. Unlike Luxembourg, South Korea does not struggle with the same issues and it is only natural that each country deals with their problems differently. While heavy traffic is not as big of a problem in South Korea, each step towards making a more developed public transport infrastructure seems to become increasingly costly for the government.
South Korea has worked towards bus route reorganization, Wi-Fi installation in public transport, second-floor buses, and many more forms of upgraded public transport facilities. In addition, there are certain privileges provided to senior citizens and the disabled, and transfers are being taken into considerations as the government provides citizens with transfer discounts. There are also commuter passes and cheaper options for people living long distances who have to come back and forth regularly. The government even provides discounts on days where there is very bad air pollution. It is no wonder that the prices for public transport have increased. It is difficult to imagine the government burdening all these public transport options without having to increase the prices by a bit.
Changes for the Better?
Some other changes that followed the hike in prices attempted to address the problems in the public transport industry. Citizens get restless about the cost increase, the government has assured them that relevant laws would be revised so that the appropriateness of the bus fares can be regularly reviewed. Bus companies receiving financial support would be obliged to conduct accounting audits to ensure transparency. There are also plans on expanding the commuter pass system that provides users with 20 to 30 percent discount in order to lessen the burden as the country goes through this change.
The government is also planning on hiring 7,300 more people by July of next year by hiring unemployed people with bus licenses, bringing in the military driving force, and diversifying recruitment by hiring women and middle-aged workers through the time-slot selection system that allows for flexibility on when people choose to work. Plans for the expansion of the facilities and equipment at the traffic safety center and the strengthening of safety management are on the way. Break times for bus drivers are going to be guaranteed and the installation of digital tachographs (DTG)1 will be made mandatory as part of this plan.
As of now, following Luxembourg in making public transport free seems completely out of the picture for South Korea. To citizens, at this point, compromising infrastructure for the price does not seem like such a bad idea. Making public transport free, or at least keeping the price to a minimum, would definitely loosen up the weekend traffic and it is definitely arguable that the changes being made on the infrastructure are completely necessary. While there is a possibility of a decrease in people walking or biking that could be a point of concern, the monetary burden put on the citizens would definitely be lifted. In turn, the government would be given the burden, but that too could be fixed if they were less ambitious about the infrastructure.
Because public transportation is environmentally and economically valuable, it is necessary to create an environment in which citizens can be satisfied through a social consensus. Contrasting news of South Korea and Luxembourg were released at around the same time, and one cannot help but compare the two outcomes. While the citizens of one country are given the option to freely commute without traffic, those of the other country are in despair because all of their options of public transportation are about to increase their prices. Even though the conditions are different, it is without a doubt that there are some things that the South Korean government could learn from and adapt to by looking at the situation in Luxembourg.
After years of fixed transportation prices, a rise does seem unavoidable in order to accommodate the changing economy. The sudden change at the same time, however, has put citizens in a difficult position and they have no option but to comply. Despite the fact that the increase in price seems minute to some, the cumulative effects are immense. The public has been given minimal explanation as to why the prices are being hiked up so high. If it is indeed due to the expansion of infrastructure, it seems only right to take the citizens’ opinions into consideration. Whether all these changes and upgrades are necessary should be up to the users of public transport to decide.