Similar to how many others would feel taking public transportation in a new country for the first time, I was very nervous before I took my first bus ride in Korea. This may have also been due to my own personality, as I was also very nervous taking public transportation for the first time when I moved to Philadelphia to attend Drexel as a teenager. I think there are many reasons to be nervous and they’re all valid reasons: you don’t want to embarrass yourself, mess up, get lost, etc. I felt all of the above and it was especially daunting because I was not yet comfortable navigating a completely Korean-speaking environment then and was also not completely comfortable using Korean navigation apps like Naver Maps and Kakao Map. I think the first rule of thumb for anyone planning to travel using public transportation in Korea is to download either one of these apps and to familiarize yourself with the interface. I didn’t think there could be a more thorough app for public transit schedules, but I really think that Naver/Kakao Maps give you so many details that it’s really hard to mess up, even as a first-timer. I think it actually works so well because Korean public transit is actually on time. Like on the minute. So when Naver maps says the bus is 2 minutes away it really is. I can’t stress this enough as someone who regularly uses SEPTA services…..Seoul’s public transit is superior in an infinite amount of ways that it’s sad thinking about Philadelphian infrastructure. In this post I want to talk about some interesting differences I’ve observed with Seoul’s buses.
So your app of choice will tell you where to walk (and all other information you would need like bus number, travelling time, needed transfers, etc.) and I believe the Kakao Metro app will tell you the exact side of the road and positioning where you need to stand for your bus as well, which is really convenient for those that are very nervous. Something interesting that I’d also like to point out is that Seoul has many more buses and different colored bus lines (similar to how their many subway lines are different colored) which is cool because I feel as if Philly’s buses aren’t necessarily colored to indicate district/area. I was kind of blown away by the sheer amount of buses in Seoul at first. Bus stops are very easy to spot and are similar to those in Philadelphia, having little roofed alcoves where people can sit and wait for their bus, although many bus stops are just indicated by a singular stand with a digital (sometimes not digital) bus schedule on it. These schedules are very convenient because they indicate upcoming buses, are also color-coded, and even show if the bus is on-time vs. late/minute’s away. I thought it was simply very organized and very convenient to have if you don’t have a moment to look at your phone.
Infrastructurally as well, I’ve noticed that many bus lanes are actually located in the center of roads. Roads are typically wider and encompass more lanes here, so there is naturally much more room for bus lanes located in the center of the road. There are often stop lights and large crosswalks for particularly large/busy bus stops.
What I’ve also noticed is that there are often nearby location markers even at bus stations. For nearby tourist spots or important landmarks there are often arrows pointing in its general direction and sometimes its indicated how far it is in meters/kilometers. I think Korea’s sign and direction situation is really great and it makes Seoul super foreigner friendly.
There is also a fee for smoking near bus stops and on buses if you are caught. There are also signs that often say no eating or drinking as well. I appreciate strict rules like this that promote the cleanliness and health of shared public spaces and would love to see such thing in America, but also understand why it probably would not work with the difference of culture.
For inside of the bus and how its expected to operate I noticed many differences. First and foremost, you scan your T-money card when you get on and when you get off the bus. I’m not exactly why this occurs, but I think it may be for tracking for those who take transfers. It also serves as a way to make sure you’re not overcharged when the system is realizing that you took a free transfer after scanning when you got off one bus and onto another. Every time you scan your card your balance and the fee deducted is shown, which is super convenient for knowing when you need to reload your card. I’ve observed that people get on at the front of the bus and get off in the middle of the bus. You can scan your card a second time right before you get off, but I’ve seen people scan their cards 1 or 2 stops before getting off as well.
Scanning my card after getting on (deduction and balance is shown), the scanners located in the front of and in the middle of the bus, the digital monitor at the front of the bus indicating next stops, and the general interior of the bus.
I don’t know if I’ve been taking the wrong Septa buses back home, but I also never saw a bus with handles to hold onto hanging from the ceiling so that was new and cool in a way. Additionally, before your stop you’re expected to press a big red stop button if no one else has already pressed it -they make a ding sound when pressed. These buttons are conveniently located all over the bus so you don’t usually need to get up to press one. I do want to mention though, that the buses move quickly so you are expected to already be up and ready to leave when your bus stop rolls around.
One of my favorite things about the buses over here is that there is always a digital board with neon signage indicating the upcoming stop in English and in Korean. There is also the time indicated on the digital board! Additionally loudspeakers are constantly indicating the upcoming stop in English and Korean and sometimes even in Japanese and Chinese.
Something I wasn’t able to take a picture of was that there is also designated seating for the elderly separate from seating for pregnant people. There is also free Wi-fi on buses and subways. In general, you will also find a lot of information on route and transfers within the actual bus as well.
“Stop” button on the wall, hammer for breaking glass in emergencies
This is everything I wish I knew before riding the bus as it probably would’ve helped with first-timer’s anxiety. I hope it was helpful!
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