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Sustainable Transport System: Case Study of Seoul, South Korea

The lecture “Sustainable transport system/ sustainable places- which comes first” was delivered by Alan Wann.


He questioned before he starts the lecture,

  1. What do we mean by sustainability?
  2. What might a Sustainable transport system look like in places of different sizes of cities or towns?

and showed diverse good examples of countries that have a good sustainable transport system.


Sustainability meant “using natural renewable resources” originally but it has had a broader meaning in the present day. In terms of development, it is defined as that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” in his words.

Sustainable transport commonly known as Green Transport relies on renewable or regenerated energy rather than fossil fuels to minimize the environmental negative effect. Good examples of sustainable transport can be said walking, cycling, and sailing.

The European Union Council of Ministers of Transport defines a sustainable transport system as one that 1. cares for and satisfies ecosystem health and human needs for development, 2. offers fairly, economic, and efficient transport modes with balanced regional development, and 3. Minimise environmental impacts in terms of emissions, waste, and noise.


There are 3 main modes of transport or travel in our life. The first is Walking. However, most people do not walk more than a mile it takes an average of 18 mins therefore, it is not a common transport mode for the long journey. For a longer journey than a mile, cycling could be a better option. In the UK, only 4% of people use a cycle every day to move and it is mainly an average of 23mins travel while the Netherlands take part in 43%. Then we can question why the Netherlands people cycle more than the UK people. There could be many reasons but in terms of urban design, the Netherlands is a compact country. In many cases of daily life, the distance from one place to another is not far and manageable distance by cycling. The third mode of transport is public transport such as but, metro and train because it carries many people at once compared to a private car. In the UK 59% of public transport journeys are made by bus. However, except in London, UK people are relying on a private car more than public transport (61% of trips by private car).

Public transport is the best option for a long journey compared to cycling and walking, it is a good option that can replace a private car. How can we increase the number of public transport users and in contrast decrease private car users?

As a transport system is one of the key components to creating sustainable places, they need many things that can support the traffic system, for example, the density of a city, the design of the city and road, and regulations.

I am trying to investigate my country, South Korea’s public transport system and the usage of public transport, especially in Seoul, which is the capital of South Korea.


The use of public transport in South Korea

Figure 1 The purpose of public transport usage (2020)

The South Korean Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, And Transport investigates the main purpose of public transport usage, work (commute) and leisure take part in big proportion (28% and 27% each). 68% of S. Korean use buses, and 32% use a metro (fig. 1). However, according to the data about the transport used to commute specifically, still most S. Korean use a private car (60%) more than public transport (29.4% of bus or metro) even if the main purpose of public transport is to commute. But interestingly, Seoul people use public transport (53.2%) more than private cars (35.25), which is the opposite result of other cities in S. Korea (fig.2). If you look at figure 3, you can see the high satisfaction about the public transport system in Seoul (Positive: 59.1%, Normal: 32.6%, Negative: 8.2%), it is much higher percentage compared to average satisfaction (Positive: 35.2%, Normal: 40.0%, Negative: 24.9%). 

According to figures 2 and 3, you can see the satisfaction and the amount of usage go together. Therefore, I will look at the Seoul transportation system to find out why citizens satisfy the public transport system and decide to use public transport rather than private cars.

Figure 2 The transport usage in South Korea


Figure 3 The Seoul People’s Satisfaction About Public Transport System


Seoul Public Transport System

The main public transport in Seoul is a bus, metro, and train. The city has been trying 1. to offer good sharing transport resources with rail-centred mass transit and faster public transportation system, 2. to create people-centred transportation that encourages walking and cycling with reducing traffic fatalities, and finally 3. to achieve environmentally conscious transportation through minimizing unnecessary travel demand and having eco-friendly efficient transport (Seoul Metropolitan Government, n.d.). As the number of passenger cars in Seoul grew by 1,314% (in 2009) since the 1980s, Seoul tried to manage the demand for public transportation (PT) through the increase of the supply of public transit, and did reform the PT system in 2004. In 2010, electric buses were introduced, and a transit mall was constructed in 2014.


  1. PT System Reform (2004)

1) Reorganization Of Bus Routes & Addition of Colour Code

Seoul changed some problematic bus routes (too many curves or redundant long-range) to a more efficient way with the increase of connection between mass transits, adding colour-code to buses depending on the bus lines (Blue, Red, Green, and Yellow). It increased the efficiency of passengers.

2) The Exclusive Median Bus Lane System with Bus Stops

The original bus lane was the outside of car roads, but it has been moved to the middle of the car road with a bus stop, and buses are given priority on the road (fig.4). It increased the 30% of bus speed, the median bus stops increased the passengers’ fast transit from one to another bus with safety.

Figure 4 The Median Bus Lane System and Bus Stop (Bus Shelter)


2. Integrated Transit Fare Card System (Integrated Transit Fare System + Rechargeable Transportation Card)

The government established the integrated transit fare card system, people only need a single transportation card to take a bus, metro, and taxi anywhere in the country through the T-money system (rechargeable transportation card), it charges depending on the total travel distance rather than independent fare (fig.5). In addition, the transportation card can be used to pay in stores such as public sports facilities, shopping, medical, and recreation. It reduced the burden of traffic fees and increase convenience at the same time.

Figure 5 The Integrated Transit Fare Card System – Transportation Card


3. Electric & CNG (Compressed natural gas) Buses with low-floor buses for the transportation-vulnerable

Most diesel buses have been changed to CNG or Electric buses to improve the air quality of Seoul, and low-floor buses are added more for the transportation-vulnerable.

Figure 6 Electric Bus/ Low-Floor Bus


4. Bus Management System (BMS) & Bus Information System (BIS)

through the GPS and BMS. BMS collect bus movement and checks the intervals of bus operations in-real time through GPS, that information is used to improve punctuality. In addition, using the data, they offer a digital board at all bus stops that show the estimated arrival time, the present location of the bus and occupancy level in real-time for passengers. Also, they can check it by smartphone application and website.

Figure 7 Digital board that show bus information (Estimated Arrival time, Present location, and occupancy level in real time)


Seoul is a very high-density city and public transport lines (bus, metro, and train) are spread over the whole city area. Also, bus, metro and train stations are near each other. Furthermore, the public transport transfer system and fare system are well-integrated. Digital systems are applied to transportation, which increased the overall passengers’ convenience. Those made the increase of the public transport usage.



Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (2021) 한눈에 알아보는 대중교통 이용현황 2020년 (Available at:

Seoul Metropolitan Government (n.d.) Seoul Public Transport (Available at:

The Korea Transport Institute (2021) 2020년 교통물류 대국민조사 (Available at:


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