Seoul Subway and Taipei MRT (Metro), Two of the Top Four Subway Systems in Asia
In the earlier part of this series, we read how Tokyo Subway and Hong Kong MTR put in place subway services that are rated highly not only by locals and tourists but also by international rating agencies and travel consultants.
Seoul Subway and Taipei MRT (Metro) are the other Asian subways that are ranked highly in terms of reliability, efficiency, safety and cleanliness.
Let's find out why.
Seoul Metropolitan Subway (Lines 1-9)
Seoul's Metropolitan subway network is probably the most extensive in the world. With 17 lines, it connects almost all parts of Seoul and the suburbs. If this is not enough, there are plans for nine new subway lines and one new extension to the existing line. If the plan goes ahead, Seoul citizens will have only a ten-minute travelling distance to the nearest station!
Seoul's subway is also the world’s largest in terms of passenger-track length.
Operated by four Government-owned rail operators and other small private rapid transit operators, it has a staggering combined daily ridership of 9.8 million (a 2012 statistic).
However, for this article we will concentrate on the network for lines 1 to 9 that covers Seoul Metropolitan, as a direct comparison to the other subways in other parts of Asia. Statistics for 2012 showed daily ridership for this network at 7.0 million commuters, lower than Tokyo and Hong Kong.
Seoul Subway Express Train
Construction work for the Seoul subway system begun in 1971. It opened for commercial operation on August 15th, 1974. The subway network has now expanded to 17 lines, but Lines 1-9 cover the Seoul Metropolitan area.
These are operated by four different companies, which are:
- Seoul Metropolitan Subway Corporation or Seoul Metro, which operates part of line 1 - 4
- Korail (Korea Railroad, formerly Korean National Railroad), which runs the other parts of line 1, 3 & 4
- Seoul Metropolitan Rapid Transit Corporation (SMRT), which runs lines 5 - 8
- Seoul Metro Line 9 Corporation, a private company which runs line 9. This makes line 9 the country's first privately operated subway line. With its triple track, it has the first express train service in Seoul.
Despite its massive networks and high daily ridership, the Seoul subway is not only efficient and reliable, but clean. It is easy to use and has high service frequency. That is why many travel experts and consultants have rated it highly.
Seoul Subway's Facilities
Commuter comfort and other material things are just as important. Hence, the newer train carriages are spacious to allow for quicker getting on and off the train. This may not be so for the older trains, but will soon be replaced with newer models.
The carriages are air-conditioned during summer. However, there are also carriages with a lower level of air-conditioning for people who cannot stand the cold. If you happen to be in that carriage on a hot summer day, be ready to sweat!
Other creature comforts that you will get to enjoy when travelling on Seoul's subway are:
- Heated passenger seats in the winter
- TV signal for cell phones
- 4G Wi-Fi
- Display TV screen (in newer stations, you get international news and sports highlights, stock prices, and service announcements.)
- All announcements and signage are in both Korean and English at all stations
- For the convenience of foreign commuters, stations that lead to tourist areas have announcements in Japanese and Chinese also.
- Depending on the line, the subway starts at 5.30 am and ends at midnight,
- Travel time between subway stations is only two to three minutes.
- For a refund on your travel card deposit, just insert the card at the machine that says, "Deposit Refund Device," just after the turnstile at your destination
- Use the Seoul Subway Digital map for the best route to your destination, travel time, fare, number of station stops, transfer station, and facilities available at the station. The Seoul subway map can also be downloaded for iPhone and Androids phones.
- Free cell-phone charging service.
Which Travel Card to Use for Seoul's Subway
Another factor for its high ranking is the use of a travel card to pay for the ride.
You can still buy a single-ride ticket, but the hassle of joining the queue and putting the money into the vending machine can be time-consuming.
When you use the rechargeable travel card, you do not have to go through this hassle and it works out cheaper.
But which card to use?
If your stay in Seoul is more than four days, you are better off using the T-money card. You can use them on the buses, trams, taxis and at convenience stores. Once you are done with this card, you will get back the remaining balance, less 500 won for service charges. By the way, the subway fare is cheaper by 100 won when you use T-money.
Otherwise, get the 1-day, 2-day, or 3-day Seoul City Pass that currently sells for 15,000, 25,000 and 50,000 won (US $14.54, US $24.23, US$48.45) respectively. With this card, you get to travel on the bus or subway up to 20 times a day, irrespective of the travel distance. In addition, you can also use it on the Seoul City Tour Bus, which takes you to all the popular tourist sites, as many times as you like. The only caveat is you cannot use Seoul City pass on the Red Bus, Gyeonggi Bus, or Incheon Bus. For visitors on a short stay, this is a better bet.
Tips on How to Ride the Seoul Subway
Seoul's subway is not that complicated to use and you will pick up the 'know-how' fast. The following tips will help you learn faster.
- Route maps above the train door show white dots for doors that open on the right and yellow dots for doors that open on the left.
- Even though you have to go through the turnstile and swipe your card at Line 9, it is a free transfer.
- For some stations, you may have to walk a longer distance for the train transfer. So allow sufficient time for this walk.
- Do not forget to tap your travel card on the sensors whenever you exit the subway or get off the bus. If you forget, they will charge you twice the next time you use the subway or bus.
- Don't forget to do the transfer within 30 minutes of the time you scan your transit card at the exit of the last subway station or bus. Between 9 pm and 7 am you have an hour to do the transfer.
- Seoul Metro operates part of lines 1 - 4, which are the oldest subway lines. Some of their stations are cramped and poorly ventilated, and their trains are slower.
- SMRT operates lines 5 - 8, which are relatively newer lines. Their subway stations are more spacious and airier. Their trains run faster.
- Seoul Metro Line 9 Corporation, which runs Line 9, has the best stations and trains.
Comparison of Train Frequency and Cheapest Single Ride Ticket
Cheapest Single Journey Ticket
2-10 mins depending on the hour
1150 won (US$1.11)
2 - 4 mins interval at peak hours. 4-7 mins during off-peak hours
2-3 mins at rush hours. Up to 10 mins at off hours
varies from 1-2 mins depending on hours
1min 49sec at peak hours and 5-15 mins at off peak
varies 4-20 mins depending on hours
2 mins during peak hours. 8-10 mins on off peak hours
1.70 Euro (US$2.35)
1-3 mins depending on the hours
30 RUB (US$0.84)
Taipei MRT or Metro
Taipei's Metro or MRT opened on March 28th, 1996, much later than the other three subway networks. It has newer trains and the routes are not as complicated as in to Seoul or Tokyo.
At a ridership of only 1.9 million per day (average figure for 1st Q2014), it is the least busy of the four subway networks and not as crowded. Hence, during peak hours you still have a decent standing space.
It currently operates from 6am to midnight and uses the downtime for maintenance. It has only 3.5 hours to do this, as the last train arrives at the depot at 1:30 am, and at 5 am tracks are inspected before service starts.
Taipei MRT Current & Future Expansion Plans
Taipei Rapid Transit Corporation runs Taipei Metro, which is 99.64% owned by various government agencies. It also operates the local bus services.
The first stage of the Taipei subway network spans over 78.3 miles (126 km) on 11 lines and has 109 stations. These have been in operation since early 1996.
The second stage, which is under construction, will add another 25.7 miles (41.3 km) to the network and 35 new stations. Construction will be completed in stages, with the last line scheduled to be complete in January 2018.
Stage three, in the planning stage, will add another 63.75 miles (102.6 km) to the network and will be able to handle up to 3.6 million riders per day.
Facilities at Taipei MRT Stations; Responding to Commuters' Needs
Taipei Metro claims a customer satisfaction level of 94 percent, and these are due to its excellent customer service and facilities for commuters:
- Train punctuality averages at an impressive 99.58%, slightly below Hong Kong which had 99.9% on-time performance
- Toilets at every station that work and are clean, with additional facilities such as breast-feeding rooms
- "Anti-peeping" measures in ladies' toilets!
- Special waiting room for women commuters, especially for night time travel
- Also for the ladies, intercoms in the trains and on platforms
- Again for the ladies, when manpower permits, women exiting the station can be escorted to the taxi stand (taxi numbers will be recorded)
- Free Wi-Fi
- Free charging stations for your cell phones and computers (currently more than 260 charging stations)
- Announcements are in Mandarin, Hakka, Taiwanese and English. Unlike most subway announcements, these are crystal clear.
- Big signage (in Chinese and English) at platforms to help commuters with directions and other information.
- Quick transfers
- Barrier-free station environment with special consideration for the visually impaired
- More than 13,200 bicycle rack spaces at most of their stations. Bicycles are allowed on board Metro trains on weekends and public holidays, to encourage Taipei residents to cycle rather than drive or use taxis on these days
Most of Taipei's houses and workplaces are a maximum of 20 minutes' walk from an MRT station.
Taipei Metro Community Service
During the upgrading of station elevators, the company used buses equipped with automated wheelchair lift platforms to ferry mobility-impaired passengers to nearby Metro stations, free of charge. These small details matter to commuters.
Besides taking care of its commuters, Taipei Metro is also mindful of the neighbourhood. It installed acoustics barriers along its medium and high-capacity tracks to reduce the ambient noise level by an average of 6-10 dB. This should help improve the living quality of residents along its track routes.
In addition, Taipei Metro organized regular station open houses for nearby residents, schools and other community associations. These interactions help them understand the operations of the stations during normal and emergency times. They also create rapport between the station staff and the communities.
Taipei MRT Customer Service Hotline
To remain accessible to public complaints, grievances, or gratitude, Taipei Metro put in place a 24-hour customer service hotline. Commuters can also e-mail their complaints or send them to the Mayor's mailbox. Alternatively, they can fill in the passenger comment forms available at all Metro stations.
Tips on Taipei Metro
- You cannot use cell phones in the first and last coaches of the train.
- Smoking, drinking, and chewing gum are not allowed in the stations or train coaches
- Pets are allowed, but must be in hand-carry cages/bags
- Wall maps (In Chinese & English) at all MRT stations show the attractions in the neighbourhood
- Tickets are valid only on the day of purchase (except the EasyCard)
- If you like Hello Kitty, Taipei Metro has the Hello Kitty train on its brown MRT line.
One of the biggest hassles of using the subway is buying the right ticket. Here's a quick guide to solve this problem.
Subway Tickets for Taipei MRT
If you do not ride the subway that often, buy the single journey ticket, which will cost between NT$20 to NT$65 (US$0.66 - US$2.15) depending on the destination distance. The ticket is in the form of a token, which you scan as you enter the gate and deposit into a slot at the exit gate.
For a short stay, but with a lot of traveling, you can buy the one-day pass at NT$150 (US$4.95) that gives you unlimited travels on the subway within one day.
If your stay is longer and you do a lot of traveling, then the EasyCard is cheaper as you get 20% discount on the fare. The card sells for NT$500 (US$16.52) of which NT$100 (US$3.30) is a deposit. You will get the refund for the deposit and for any unused portion when you return the card. In addition, you can use this card on the bus and at certain car parks. If your transfer from the subway to a bus (or vice-versa) two hours, you pay only half of the bus/subway fare.
Taipei Metro Financial Performance
Based on the currently available 2012 Annual Report, Taipei Metro had a proﬁt before tax of US$ 29.07 million (NT$880 million) based on turnovers from its subway and bus services, its affiliated businesses from car parks, stores at stations and underground malls, and advertisements.
It may not be as impressive as Hong Kong's financial performance (for almost similar track length), but impressive enough for any transport operators.
Guide on How to Use Taipei Metro
Seoul Subway vs. Taipei Metro
Which Subway is better, Seoul Subway or Taipei Metro?
Top Service from Asian Subway Operators
We read how Seoul, Taipei and in the earlier series, Tokyo and Hong Kong put in place first-class services for efficiency, reliability, safety and cleanliness.
Their services are affordable and most important of all, they listen to their customers, the commuters. The subway is an integral part of the daily activities in these cities and the commuters expect high levels of safety and punctuality on a daily basis.
These Asian subway operators not only generate profits to shareholders, but play responsible social roles for stakeholders and the communities.
Infrastructure and Economic Growth
Economic growth in any country relies on many factors. Efficient and reliable transportation services and its easy accessibility are part of these factors, as is clean, safe and reasonably priced transportation.
Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue and Dr. Theo Notteboom in their report show the relationship between good quality transport infrastructure and economic development.
These are some of the reasons why cities such as Hong Kong and Tokyo succeed as important global financial centers.
Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore, and Osaka are other Asian cities that are fast catching up in excellent subway service. Soon, most of the top ten subways in the world will be from Asia!
What say you?
© 2014 Mazlan