SEOUL, Jan. 17 (Korea Bizwire) — Free public transportation during commuting hours, Seoul’s emergency response to the elevated levels of particulate matter in the atmosphere courtesy of China, has been met with an unenthusiastic response from Seoul residents, who have levied a wide range of criticisms against the measure, calling it pointless and superficial.
Yesterday, the Seoul Metropolitan Government announced city buses and subways would be accessible gratis in the morning hours up to 9 a.m. and from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday (January 17) marks the second time in the city’s history that public transportation has become free for a limited time, with January 15 being the first.
Despite what appears to be a generous move catering to commuters in the city of 10 million, Seoulites are unimpressed with what they view as a failure to address the core issue behind the smog clouding up the skyline.
One individual on his way to work this morning said, “The fine dust problem is in essence heavily attributable to China, so the government needs to tackle this issue at its core.”
Many were in agreement that China was the main culprit behind the current spate of poor air quality. “China is the cause of the worsening fine dust levels,” said one mask-wearing commuter. “Rather than at the city level, the central government must take action to solve this problem. Until then, any city initiatives are unlikely to make much of a difference.”
Others suspected political motivations to be behind the free public transport rides. One individual identifying himself as an office worker said, “I think this is all a ploy to curry public favor to win votes in the upcoming elections.”
Regional elections are slated to be held on June 13, and incumbent mayor Park Won-soon may run for a third term. The mayor’s office of South Korea’s most populous metropolis has served as a stepping stone for aspiring presidents in the past. Former president Lee Myung-bak served as mayor from 2002 through 2006.
Citizen ambivalence was reflected in data gathered by the city government on January 15’s traffic and public transport usage. Compared to the Monday the week prior, 23,000 more riders hopped on the subway during commuting hours, a 2.1 percent increase. City bus usage inched up by 0.4 percent (3,500), while an analysis of 14 key traffic points within the city revealed the number of vehicles to have declined by 1.8 percent (2,099).
In the city’s defense, the free public transportation measure was enacted based on the conclusions derived from a public town hall discussion air pollution held last May. After taking into consideration the various topics discussed, Seoul declared in June that free rides on city buses and the subway would be granted on days with bad air.
Looking abroad, a similar measure was carried out in Paris but has since been discontinued.
During times of poor air quality, public transportation in Paris as well as the city’s public bikeshare and electric car rental system “Autolib” were offered to city residents free of charge.
Lina Jang (firstname.lastname@example.org)