Seoul’s public transportation system is nothing short of amazing, particularly when compared to that of Los Angeles. The last time I was in Seoul (5 years ago) I didn’t take any buses and I don’t recall what the subway was like, so I can’t comment on how it’s changed in recent years. I can, however, tell you what it’s like now.
The subway is incredibly extensive and can take you anywhere you want to go in Seoul. I’ve traveled almost as far east and west as it goes, to Godeok Station in Gangdong and Geomam Station in Incheon, respectively. I am closest to the green line (line 2); my dorm is about a 20 minute walk from both Sinchon Station and Ewha Women’s University Station, and there are multiple bus routes nearby that stop by the station when I don’t have time to walk.
Here’s a map of the subway system, with the stations I’ve been to/transferred through marked with red boxes.
The first time I took the subway, I was shocked at how clean it was. Underground subway stations aren’t usually the cleanest of places; after all, a ton of people pass through them every day, bringing with them trash, dirt, and germs. But I get the sense that Seoul’s subway passengers have a respect for the public transportation system that helps maintain the pristine conditions of its shared spaces.
As you can see from the two photos above, subway stations have screen doors that separate the platform from the tracks themselves. The doors have to open for passengers to be able to get on or off a train. It’s part of what makes the subway so clean!
The system is also incredibly efficient — transfers are straightforward and easy (though they can require a bit of walking and multiple flights of stairs), and you often don’t have to transfer more than once or twice to get where you want to go. When I took the airport express line to get to Incheon, there was even a moving walkway in the transfer passageway.
It’s also really reasonably priced — just 1,050 won (about $1!) when you use your transit card (aka T-money card). There are extra charges for long-distance travel, which are noted below (retrieved from the Korea Tourism Organization’s website):
~ Total distances exceeding 10km (within Seoul): 100 won for each additional 5km
~ Total distances exceeding 40km (within Seoul): 100 won for each additional 10km
~ Total distances exceeding 30km (outside Seoul): 100 won for each additional 5km
You can transfer up to 5 times between bus and subway for no additional cost when you use your T-money card, as long as you transfer within 30 minutes and your trip is within 10 km in total. You just have to tap your card when you enter and exit a subway station and when you board and get off a bus.
Seoul is full of buses. There are four main types: blue buses, green buses, red buses, and yellow buses. Again, according to the Tourism Organization:
— Blue buses travel long distances on major arterial roads within Seoul and serve more than two districts.
— Green buses operate on branch lines within one district of Seoul, carrying passengers to transfer points.
— Red buses are express buses connecting Seoul with suburban areas. The service is rapid and comfortable.
— Yellow buses travel in a closed circle only within major district areas of Seoul.
As my textbook shows…
Our lessons are quite practical!
There are bus stops everywhere, and each stop is usually on at least 3 bus routes, if not more. Quite a few are serviced by little electronic screens that show which buses are currently approaching, and estimated arrival times for the rest. It’s so convenient, especially for people without smartphones! (Although a majority of Koreans have smart phones…even Seoyeon, who’s in the 4th grade, has one!)
In conclusion, I’m in love with Seoul’s public transit system. It’s cheap, convenient, and gets me everywhere I could possibly want to go (within Seoul) — perfect for a student exploring the city on a budget!