Practical Life in Seoul


Transport in Seoul


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Seoul's public transportation boom dates back to the era of the Korean Empire when the first tram lines were laid and a railway track linking Seoul and Shinuiju was first put in place. Seoul's transportation network has since evolved to make the city one of the most important transportation hubs in Asia.

Metro

Seoul has nine subway lines, some 400 bus routes and six major highways that connect every district of the city to one another. The Seoul metropolitan area is the world’s most highly populated and traffic congestion is a big problem here.

The public transportation in Seoul on the other hand is excellent and will take you almost anywhere you need to go. Indeed the majority of commuters use the public transportation system for this reason. The quickest way of getting around Seoul is generally by subway.

Trains

Seoul is also linked to several other major South Korean cities by the KTX bullet train, Asia's fastest high-speed train, making commuting between cities extremely convenient for commuters and tourists alike. Seoul's metropolitan government furthermore employs several mathematicians to coordinate the subway, bus, and traffic schedules into one streamlined timetable.

The light rail service operates between Incheon and Gimpo Airports, connecting to subway line 5, and from there access to all parts of Seoul. All major towns and cities in South Korea are linked by reliable rail links. Seoul and Pusan are furthermore connected by a new high-speed train service called the KTX, which runs on the same technology as the French TGV. The journey takes less than three hours and trains run frequently.

For further information about Korean rail services and for online booking go to:
http://ktx.korail.go.kr/

Bus

Seoul buses are frequent, reliable and cheap, and the bus network is large. Finding the way to your destination without any knowledge of Korean will be a challenge however since the route map is usually in Korean.

There are approximately 400 bus routes and a lane is reserved for buses on city roads during the daytime, which makes it faster to get around by bus than by car or taxi. The downside: local buses are often crowded, so be prepared to stand and be jostled. Also bus drivers tend to break hard, which makes for rough riding at times.

Buses are colour-coded:

  • green buses run the local routes,
  • blue ones travel further,
  • red buses are express services to the suburbs,
  • yellow buses run on circular routes in downtown Seoul, which is perfect for shopping trips or for access to business sectors.

Bus stops are also colour-coded according to the buses stopping there. There is a bus stop outside every subway station. Some drivers don’t always stop at the scheduled bus stops, so you have to wave them down. Note also that since bus lanes are in the middle of the road the bus stop may be too.

Taxis

There are two main types of taxi in Seoul: Ilban (grey, white or blue in colour) and Mobeom (deluxe or black taxis). A new orange fleet specifically for foreigners also exists: the fare for the foreigner taxi is 20% higher than the regular taxis if you call them, but the same if you get them on the street.

The most common way to get a taxi is to flag one down on the street, although you can also go to a taxi stand or phone. It’s best to flag a cab that is heading in the direction you want to go, otherwise it could take up to 15 extra minutes for the driver to turn around (left turns are often prohibited). Some drivers may even refuse to take you if they are going in the opposite direction.

An increasing number of taxi drivers speak English and certain taxis offer a free interpretation service for English, Japanese, and Chinese via mobile telephone. Note that drivers know landmarks rather than street addresses, although an increasing number of them have GPS.

It's helpful to have information written in Korean. If you have real problems you can try the free interpretation service available for taxis (the driver will call) or try 02-1330 (1330 from a landline) where an English-speaking person will help you communicate with the driver.

As always, when getting in the taxi make sure the meter has been set to zero. There are no tolls within the city limits but there are on trips to the airport and this is charged to the passenger. Some drivers will refuse a fare if the person is going only a short distance, or if the destination is too far away and he’s at the end of his shift.

Taxi sharing (hapseung) still occurs on occasion, although it is not legal. Taxis can take up to 3 adults. Tipping is neither customary nor expected, although a ten percent tip might be appropriate in some cases. Payment is required in cash.

Car

You need an International Driver's License to drive in Korea; if you are a long-term resident you can obtain a Korean driver's license. Korean drivers are not known for being extremely respectful of traffic laws, and local drivers may be particularly impatient with foreigners.

“Bullying” is common: buses and expensive cars regularly disregard traffic rules and intimidate drivers of smaller or less expensive cars. Koreans are generally in a hurry and buses in particular often stop right on pedestrian crossings at red lights hence blocking the way for pedestrians. It is not uncommon for motorcyclists to drive on the sidewalk.

Although there is minimal police presence on the roads there are cameras all over Seoul to catch traffic and parking offenders and the police regularly set up speed traps and alcohol checkpoints. If you see a police car with its lights flashing coming up behind you stay calm, it usually just means that the officers are on duty.

Car rental

Renting a car is easy to do in Korea, although it’s more costly than in many countries. To be able to rent a car foreign drivers must have more than one year's driving experience, be over 21, have a valid international driver's license or Korean driving license and be in possession of a valid passport.

Renting a car for occasional use is a popular choice for foreign visitors who don’t what the trouble of owning their own vehicle. On-line car rental is widely available. Hiring a driver along with the car is a good option if you don't know your way around or are concerned about traffic conditions. The price will include an hourly fee for the driver plus his expenses (meals and accommodation when applicable). The cost of hiring a car and driver in Seoul varies but will start at about 85 euros for a 10 hour day.

There are two car hire outlets located at Seoul Incheon International Airport. Their offices can be found at both the number 2 exit and the number 13 exit on the first floor, close to the main arrivals area.

Please click on the following links for car hire in Seoul:

Update 17/05/2010


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