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Transportation in Seoul

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There are several choices available for transportation in Seoul: taxis, buses, and the subway.  Almost any point in Seoul can be reached using one of these modes of transportation.  The basic idea behind building Seoul's transportation network was to connect the bus routes to the subway system.  The average Korean uses public transportation daily.  The traffic situation is very serious in Seoul, especially during rush hour, which is from 7 - 9 in the morning and from 4 - 7 in the evening.  It's a good idea to avoid being out during rush hour, if possible, but buses and the subway are still very good transportation to travel around Seoul because they are very inexpensive, convenient and easy to use.

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The subway, with eight lines and one national railway line, covers the entire area of Seoul including surrounding areas.  Most stations are underground, but you will find some are above ground.  Subway rains arrive on average about every five minutes, although during rush hour you can expect one to arrive about every two minutes.  Service is available from 5:30 a.m. to 12 a.m. on most lines. 

Subway signs are generally in Korean and English, but keeping a small subway map makes it much easier to get around Seoul.  There are two different fares for the subway, depending on the zone you travel.  Zone one is 500 won (US $.40 - approx), zone two is 600 won (US $.50 - approx).  There is a fifty percent discount for children, soldiers and the elderly. 

Subway passes may be purchased with a ten percent discount in increments of 20,000 won, 10,000 won and 5,000 won and can be purchased at ticket counters and at vending machines located in the station.  The pass has a magnetic strip, so try to avoid demagnetizing it, but if there is a problem take it to the ticket counter and they can correct it for you.

Most subway stations and trains are very clean and modern, except for the national railway since it is an older line.  Bathrooms and vending machines are available at most stations, while some have eating and shopping areas as well.  The subway stations are strictly no smoking areas, except for immediately outside the station.  It's a good idea to avoid the rush hour.

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There are three different kinds of bus: regular, express and village (shuttle bus).  Buses take thirty percent of the daily traffic and they start service at 5:30 a.m. and end about 12 a.m.  Buses arrive varying from five to ten minutes apart, depending on traffic.  There are approximately 400 bus routes in Seoul, which can be very confusing to a foreigner, unlike the subway which is relatively easy to use.  Most express buses have air-conditioning, while only some of the regular or village buses do.

Regular (Ilban) Bus

The fare is 500 won for adults, 340 won for students and 200 won for children.  Cheaper than the express bus, the regular bus has more stops, which means it takes longer to get to your destination.  You can pay with tokens, cash, and bus pass. 

Express Bus

The advantage of using the express bus is that there are usually seats available, less stops which means faster service and more comfortable than the regular bus.  Air conditioning is always available in these buses.  The fare is 1,100 won ($1 US) and can be paid with tokens, cash and bus pass.

Village (Shuttle) Bus

These have very short lines and only service short distances in the small districts.  They mainly connect the subway station to a few places in those districts.  The price depends on the village, but averages 300 - 400 won ($.25 -.30 US). 

Bus Card

Bus cards are available in increments of 20,000 won, 10,000 won and 5,000 won and can be purchased at news stands located near the bus stops.

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Taxis are available anywhere and are generally clean.  The prices are non-negotiable as the taxis have meters that calculate the fare according to distance and time.   You can flag down a taxi almost anywhere in the city and as long as they don't have a passenger, they'll stop.   There are two different kinds of taxis: general and deluxe. 

Regular (Ilban) Taxi

These taxis are generally white or silver and the top will have a "taxi" sign.  The fare is calculated according to distance and time.  Once you get in the taxi, the fare automatically starts at 1,300 won ($1.20 US - approx) and goes up after two kilometers, depending on traffic, then increases one hundred won (approx $.10 US) every 210 meters or 51 seconds.  The ilban taxi is relatively inexpensive in comparison to taxis in other metropolitan cities around the world.  These taxis are generally clean and have good service, but most drivers can't speak English, so have your destination written in Korean, if possible.  Most ilban taxis are Hyundai Sonatas and Daewoo Leganzas.

Deluxe Taxi

About two times more expensive than the ilban taxi, the deluxe taxi will take you to any major location in the city.  They are trained to serve foreigners and most can speak basic English, so the service is generally excellent.  Car phones are available for use.  Still, compared to other metropolitan cities around the world, they are a good value.  The price is not negotiable and tipping is not necessary.

Tips for Riding in Taxis

If there is a small amount of change due back, most Koreans don't get it but let the driver take it as his tip.  For example if the fare is 1900 won, they will just give 2000 won and leave the 100 won.

During rush hour it is common for Koreans to share their taxi with others, but it is illegal.  In spite of this, it still happens very frequently.

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Seoul City Tour Bus

The Seoul City Tour Bus is another way to travel around Seoul.  It is a new service that has just started in winter 2000.  It goes to all the famous tourist spots in Seoul, but doesn't go to every location in Seoul.  The main locations are downtown Seoul, Namdaemun Market, Itaewon and goes around the various palaces.  The buses arrive at the stops every 25 minutes, official time, but there may be delays due to traffic.  For a flat fee, a tourist can get off and on the bus at any stop.  The flat fees are W5,000 during the day, W5,000 during the night, W8,000 for an entire day.  Tickets may be purchased at various bus stops or tourist locations around Seoul.  Or, tourists may pay the driver cash when they get on the bus and get their tickets then.  It is an excellent way to experience Seoul, without spending a lot of money, for those without a lot of time to spare.

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