36° 46′ 49.2564″ N, 127° 0′ 25.2612″ E
I have mentioned in my other articles that Korea has two extreme sides. One is the historical and traditional side that displays Korea’s glorious and respected past, the other is the futuristic and high-tech side that shows the promising future of Korea. You can see both of these sides in every part of life here. Transportation is no exception.
What kind of ways do you have to get around your city? Walking, driving, riding a unicycle? Do you have public transportation? My own hometown has never had any kind of public transit. Can you guess why some places do have it and others don’t? Wouldn’t it be easier if everyone just had their own car? Think about these questions as I show you a few reasons why I love traveling in Korea!
Korea is home to almost 50 million people living in a country about the size of Kentucky. That is 1,256 people per square mile! Getting all these people to school, work, friend’s homes, vacation spots, etc. and all the way back home is an incredible task. Korea has only been able to manage this demand because of its huge network of highways and train lines that must get bigger almost everyday keep up with population growth and new car drivers on the road. In a little country like this, the land needed for roads is also greatly needed for agriculture and living space too. This situation has caused Koreans to really embrace the idea of public transportation.
Almost anywhere you want to go in Korea has a bus that can take you there. Bus stops are easy to find and use the same T-money card system that the subway uses. This makes it totally possible to live in Korea without ever owning a car and still travel around freely. Most buses run specific routes within a city and usually arrive every 5 to 20 minutes. Many of the buses are very modern and even have heated seats, however, some of the buses have been in use for a very long time and kind of feel like a soda can with wheels. The express buses that run from city to city are always nicer. They only sell reserved seats so you know you won’t have to stand the whole way like on the crowded city buses. These express buses are a little cheaper than the subways and trains, but you need to put up with the bouncing and shaking of crazy Korean highway traffic! I prefer to use the subway and trains!
Korea has a very advanced subway system that not only covers it’s two biggest cities, but also extends for several miles beyond them. Many of the subway stations also connect to the train system that reaches almost everywhere else. Three trains are available for travelers that vary in cost and speed. The cheapest one stops at every station and has no reserved seats, so everyone just pours on to the train and grabs a seat anywhere they can as fast as they can! The second type only stops at larger stations so the trip is a little faster and the big cushiony seats can be reserved before your trip.The last type is definitely the coolest of the three. It is called the KTX, and it stands for Korea Train Express. The KTX is the most expensive of the trains and only has reserved seats, but it is fast, really fast. While little grandmothers ride shaky bicycles taking veggies to the market on dirt roads below, the KTX rockets by overhead at almost 200mph on its elevated rail! This train is as close as you can get to flying without leaving the ground!
The first time I rode the bus in Korea, I was with five of my friends as we were going to visit a traditional folk village. We got on the bus right in front of the subway station and started our trip. We could see from the bus map that we would ride to the 15th stop and the route of the bus seemed to weave through the city like a snake in a maze. When we first boarded the bus there were hardly any people on board at all so we all went to the rear of the bus to sit in the long seat at the very back. That was our first mistake. As the bus made its rounds, it picked up more and more people until it looked like we would be blocked in with no chance of escape!
If you have ever ridden in the back of a bus or a roller-coaster, you know that it is the part that gets whiped around the most. This is not good when you combine it with tightly packed people, horribly bumpy roads, quick stops, fast turns, and motion sickness. By the 10th stop, half of our group was already turning green. We spent the next two stops trying to breath and relax, but by the 13th stop, we had had enough! We pushed and sqeezed our way to the doors in the middle of the bus so we could get off as soon as possible. The bus finally came to a stop and the doors swung open. We jumped off the bus like a bunch of sailors who had been stuck on a life raft for a week. Once we had regrouped and settled our stomachs a bit, we looked around to find out where we were and how far we would have to walk to reach the village. Amazingly, we were at the exact stop for the village! I must have misread the map or the bus skipped some stops, because we were just where we needed to be!
The reason Korea, and much of Asia, has such an accessible and popular public transit system is that its population is so large. The land suitable for living, growing food, building schools, hospitals, etc. is being taken up by roads that must get bigger and bigger to support more drivers. As the population grows, more land is needed for food, but more land is also needed for the cars of the new people! Which one do you think is more important?
Public transport works because it relieves both problems. Buses use less space on the road to move more people and they don’t require giant parking lots everywhere like cars do. The trains are even better. They can move hundreds or thousands of people per day and take up far less space than that used for roads. The second benefit public transit brings is for the environment. Cars use huge amounts of fuel and create lots of pollution to move just one or two people. Trains can move much more weight further for the same amount of fuel overall. Burning less fuel also means less pollution and with smog being a constant problem in most large cities, trains can potentially help a lot. I hope that you will support public transportation in your city and when you can, maybe even try to use one of the most efficient transportation methods ever, a bicycle!