City Life

Seoul City Scraps Controversial Free Rides

February 28, 2018 13:15

The Seoul Metropolitan Government has scrapped free subway and bus rides on smoggy days that were supposed to reduce pollution. The free rides were provided three times, on Jan. 15, 17, and 18 but cost the city W5 billion each time (US$1=W1,073).

Until recently, the city was adamant that the free rides must continue even if that meant asking for a bigger budget, but now it has backed down due to little public support and ineffectiveness in reducing pollution.

Hwang Bo-yeon at the city government told reporters on Tuesday, "The free rides were inevitable given that putting all cars on a rotation of odd and even number plates on alternate days [on days with heavy smog] has not been put into law yet."

He pledged to move "to the next level because we believe that the free rides have served their purpose in persuading the central government to take more powerful measures."

Commuters take a subway at Gwanghwamun in Seoul on Jan. 15.

The immediate effect of free rides proved negligible. Traffic volume fell a mere 0.3 percent on the first day, 1.73 percent on the second, and 1.7 percent on the third, and particle emissions were reduced by at most 3.3 percent.

"We felt it was too much trouble to keep the policy alive as experts and civic groups all stressed the need to work out more effective measures," a city official said.

Out of the W24.92 billion budget for the free rides, W10 billion have already been spent, making it difficult to stick with the free rides as the weather will become warmer and bring more smoggy days.

Lee Sam-yeol of Yonsei University said, "Stunts like the free rides, which are carried out without careful planning and don't have the cooperation of adjacent municipalities, simply can't produce the desired results."

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