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Lessons from Seoul's Bus Redesign
The current ridership woes of cities in the United States are not unique in history, and American cities would do well to learn from the example of Seoul, Andy Furillo writes for Mobility Labs. "In 2002, average bus loads were less than half what they were in 1989. Private operators were going bankrupt, and the government subsidies required to keep remaining bus services running had multiplied by 10 in just three years," Furillo reports.
But rather than cutting transit, the city sought to improve the bus service. Making routes simpler—adding branch systems, regulating bus operators so they couldn't offer redundant routes and investing in a massive public information campaign. The city's mayor, Lee Myung-bak, "personally attended nearly 30 briefings for Seoul’s 16,000 bus drivers to emphasize his plans to protect their rights, increase their wages, and improve their workplace environment, helping ensure the labor community was on board with the reforms," Furillo writes.
Seoul also invested in keeping its bus lanes clear of other traffic. "On some corridors, bus speeds doubled almost immediately after the overhaul, and travel times improved for cars as well," Furillo reports. Unsurprisingly, faster buses led to ridership growth that continued even after the overhaul was a year old.