South Korea and Seoul: geographic and demographic overviewSouth Korea is one of the world’s most densely populated and urbanized countries. Fully half the population of 50 million resides in the Seoul metropolitan region. “Smart City” has become a local buzzword, and the government continues to make rapid improvements in the quality of the urban infrastructure and environment. On May 22, 2017, real-time information displaying the level of crowding on Seoul’s city buses was rolled out across the network. By utilizing existing data to enhance the service level, this update represents a textbook example of incremental innovation – improvements that could be accomplished without costly changes to the physical infrastructure.
Seoul public transport system overviewSeoul enjoys a world class public transport system. The urban rail system has 20 lines and over 500 stations. Buses play a vital role with a modal share of 27%, versus 39% for rail In a massive public transport reform on 1 July 2004, bus routes were re-numbered according to the geographical start and end points and divided into clear color-coded categories:
- Trunk lines for inter-regional (red buses)
- Trunk lines for intra-reginal (blue buses)
- Feeder (green buses)
- Circular (yellow buses)
Service layer: T-money smart cardThe fare system was also overhauled to coincide with the launch of the T-money smart card (“T” represents “tech, transport, and touch”). Previously, bus-to-bus or bus-to-subway transfers required a separate fare. This caused passengers to use sub-optimal bus routings to avoid transfers. Under the new system, up to four free transfers are allowed, giving passengers an incentive to find the routing and modal combination that minimizes travel time. This has the positive side effect of reducing strain on the system by minimizing the number of passenger-minutes spent in the system.The T-money smart card has become an indispensable part of the service level transport infrastructure. An innovative “post-paid” billing service launched in 2013 links the card to a user’s credit card and bills the monthly cumulative spending at the end of each month, thereby eliminating the need to top up the card. The T-money card can already be used in taxis, bicycle share and across most cities and regions of the country. It is possible that additional offerings such as car share and “all-you-can-ride” subscription plans will be added later. This would blur the line between a simple payment system and a true Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) concept, such as “Whim” by Maas Global, launched in Helsinki, Finland in 2016
Data layer: Transport Operation & Information Service (TOPIS)A robust data layer is crucial for the T-money system to function. Seoul’s Transport Operation & Information Service (TOPIS), also established in 2004, acts as the “control tower” for Seoul’s transport system by gathering and processing real-time traffic related information. Through its Bus Management System (BMS), it utilizes GPS receivers and wireless communication devices to gather and analyze bus information in real time. Major bus stops have electronic signboards displaying real-time information. Data is also made available through a public API, facilitating integration into smartphone apps.
Seoul TOPIS Bus Management System (BMS) Source: Seoul Transport Operation & Information Service (TOPIS) 
Introduction of real-time bus occupancy-level informationOn May 22, 2017, Seoul enhanced the quality of information provided by adding real-time occupancy conditions, which is determined by using data on passengers boardings and exists that is already collected for determining travel distance and transfer time.
Bus Occupancy Level
|Level||Guide to level of congestion inside the bus|
|Spacious(여유)||Seats are available|
|Normal (보통)||Standing passengers can each hold on to a handle|
|Crowded(혼잡)||Passengers are crowding into the passageway and their bodies touch (abnormal)|
- Cash fares: Buses in Seoul accept cash payment, and passengers paying by cash will not register in real-time occupancy statistics. However, the number of passengers paying by cash represents a small and declining proportion of total bus passengers.
- Incomplete tapping out: Passengers are supposed to tap their smart cards both upon entering and exiting the bus (the 30-minute free transfer period is calculated from exiting the bus or subway gates). However, passengers sometimes neglect to tap out properly. Such passengers will incorrectly show up as present on the bus.
- Fare evasion: A small number of passengers evade fare payment, and the will obviously not be reflected in occupancy information.
CoverageReal time occupancy information is provided for blue (trunk), green (feeder) and yellow (circular) buses. Coverage for red buses (inter-regional) and village (local) buses may be added in the future. Occupancy information for M-bus routes (a special type of inter-regional commuter bus that does not allow standing passengers), has been provided since the launch of this bus type.
Information display methodOccupancy information is displayed on electronic signboards boards installed at major bus stops in Seoul in parenthesis following the route number.Occupancy information on electronic signboards
- English-language guide to the electronic bulletin board: ·Route numbers displayed in white. ·
- ETA displayed in blue on the right-hand side of the column (분 = minutes) ·
- Imminent arrivals (within 1-2 min) displayed in the yellow box at bottom · Occupancy information displayed in parenthesis following bus number in imminent arrival box o Spacious (여유) in green o Normal (보통) in yellowo Crowded (혼잡) in red
- Screenshot shows a segment of the bus route 471
- Blue boxes on the left-hand side depict individual buses and their current positions between stops
- Occupancy information is indicated by the text on the right-hand side of the blue boxes.
- Unlike electronic bulletin boards, text is not color coded – all three occupancy levels are displayed in yellowletters.
- The top bus is at a “spacious” level (“여유”)
- The bottom bus is at a “normal” (“보통”) level.
- Wait for the next bus on the same route. Headways on trunk routes are often no more than 7-8 minutes. Elderly, mobility restricted passengers, or those traveling a long distance or who otherwise value a seat, waiting for the next bus may be worth-while.
- Select an alternate bus route that travels along the same corridor. Alternatively, a one that follows a similar route.
- Select the subway. For many origin-destination combinations, subways provide coverage (although usually with longer walking distances involved). The smoother ride may render standing less inconvenient on a subway, even if it is equally crowded.
- Walk or bike the last mile. For short journeys (typically those connecting the origin or destination to the subway station) some passengers may prefer to simply walk or use the bike share scheme.