Riding the Rails, Part 2

In my previous post, I talked about the need for a massive public-transportation overhaul in the U.S. This belief is only further confirmed by the stark contrast between Korea’s amazingly fast, efficient, and convenient service, and the lack of any of those qualities in America’s “system.”

I love it when a plan works out. A few weeks back, I had decided to come down to Daegu this weekend. (You may recall the city Daegu from the job I was denied back in December). I’ll be meeting my friend Mark there. Last night I texted Mark to ask if he would be interested in grabbing lunch around 1 o’clock. This would require me to grab the 11 AM train. This, in turn, would require me to be there by 10:30 to get a ticket. So, I would have to get up, feed and walk Sydney, and head for the subway around 9:30.

Check, check, and check.

They were sold out, spare for first class on the trip down. So, twist my arm, Korail, I guess I’ll have to shell out the extra $15 for more space and Internet access. (Incidentally, a similar thing happened on the way to Busan for New Year’s Eve, they were completely sold out except for the “Movie Car” where I was forced to sit through the–and please excuse my language–train-wreck of a movie that was “Skyline”).

Today is absolutely a wonderful day to travel. It’s warm, it’s sunny, and its the weekend. I absolutely love flying, but I might like taking the train just a hair more. Foremost, we can just get on the train and GO–no checking in, or long lines for security. And go, we do. At the moment we’re traveling at over 300 km/h (or 186 mph for my American friends). Sure, not as fast as a plane, but I would be willing to bet that I get to Daegu faster by train than by plane when travel times are included.

But the KTX (Korea’s “bullet” train) is just the tip of the iceberg when discussing Korea’s impressive transit system. The subway is spectacular in Seoul, and the bus system is also top-notch. Tickets are not needed for either; instead it utilizes rechargeable transit cards that can be swiped through a wallet or purse when entering or exiting the station. The base fee is 900 won (about 80 cents, U.S.D.) for a single trip on either the bus or subway. A few hundred won might be tacked on for longer journeys, and it’s all automatic. Also, if you need to transfer from a bus to a subway, the computer recognizes the first transaction and will not charge for a second fare.

I was somewhat shocked to learn that my transit card from Seoul also works in Busan. I’m not sure if it will work in Daegu, but I guess I’ll find out shortly. (Both Busan and Daegu have their own subway systems). Busan residents are not nearly as fortunate, their card does not work in Seoul.

Well, I will be arriving in Daegu shortly, so I must wrap this thing up. In closing, I find it frustrating that we Americans do not have access to this sort of mobility in the States. It’s convenient, better for the environment and makes cities far less congested. The automobile and our highway system in America are incredible achievements, but at what long-term cost? I worry that our insistence that the market will guide our transportation needs and policies will be, in the end, short-sighted. But that’s another discussion for another day.

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