| 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
1. Field verification and civic participation: November 2012 to January 2013.
Seoul City identified the level of demand for night public transit through conducting research on public transport use in the late and early morning hours in Seoul from December 2012 to January 2013. The city then gathered opinions from citizens and experts in the process of shaping the operation plan. The draft plan was shared with the public on the Internet (e.g., the city’s blog and official website), through mobile channels (e.g., social media like Twitter, etc.) and via other channels to foster public awareness and consensus.
2. Coordinating stakeholders’ opinions and interests: January 2013 to March 2013.
The draft plan spurred some tension among citizens, bus carriers, other business organizations, and the Bus Policy Division at the City Transportation Headquarters of the city government. In response the city organized numerous meetings with these stakeholders to convince them of the value of the plan before its actual implementation.
3. Quantitative data analyses on passengers and routes: January 2013 to March 2013.
Quantitative analyses were conducted on New Transportation Card System data, the nighttime taxi database, and on the database of KT, a private telecommunication service provider. Specifically, Seoul analyzed the number of passengers at each bus stop, passenger behavior by the hour, and the density of passengers in each area. The results were then used to determine the optimal layout for night bus routes. The routes were then shared with the public on the Internet and through mobile channels. After numerous review and feedback meetings, two of the routes on the draft plan were confirmed in February 2013. The participating bus carriers were chosen in March 2013, and the trial operation began on April 19, 2013.
4. Two night bus routes in trial operation: April 2013.
The two trial operation routes crossed Seoul from east to west, and from south to north, via such popular areas as the Hongdae district, Jongro, and Gangnam Subway Station. The intervals between the buses were about 25 to 30 minutes. The Bus Information System and a smartphone application based on the system were used to inform passengers of bus schedules in advance.
5. Deciding on a brand: June 2013.
As news of the new night bus program began to spread, particularly among blog and Twitter users, citizens became interested in what the new program should be called. The city, therefore, held a public naming contest to decide on the name, with the “Owl Bus Program” receiving the most votes. The letter “N,” symbolizing “Night,” is used to indicate an Owl Bus, followed by the identification number of each area or bus stop. Bus number N61, for instance, indicates that the bus travels to areas 6 and 1 (Guro-Yangcheon and Dobong-Nowon, respectively). The new brand and numbering system were adopted on bus stop signs, route maps, route numbers, and bus numbers.
6. Expansion to nine routes: September 2013.
Contrary to initial worries that few passengers would use the buses, the 3-month trial operation ended with 188,100 passengers using the buses in total, or 2,090 passengers a day on average. The program garnered a satisfaction score well above 80 percent, and was even labeled “Seoul’s best policy initiative to date” by the public. In a survey on the service, 88 percent of participants expressed a strong desire to see the program expand. Seoul thus added seven more routes to the Owl Bus Program.
| 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
Seoul and the Bus Policy Division at City Transportation Headquarters.
The Bus Policy Division at the City Transportation Headquarters of the city government continues to receive suggestions for night buses. The 146 employees of the division were assembled into local investigation teams and dispatched to determine passenger use of public transit in 20 areas of Seoul in the late and early morning hours for 2 months. The investigations revealed the strong need for a more systematic and comprehensive plan for accommodating citizens’ transportation needs in the late/early morning hours. Seoul, in turn, launched thoroughgoing analyses of transportation demands and gathered advice and opinions from citizens and experts in the process of conceptualizing the night bus program.
Public and private sources of data, and communication with citizens and other stakeholder groups.
Seoul entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with KT, a private telecommunication service provider, to gain access to and analyze data on areas and routes with significant transport activity during the later hours. The call volume data provided by KT enabled Seoul to analyze the number of complaints registered and the number of passengers by hour and bus stop, and helped to determine specific bus routes. Seoul also sought out advice from experts, citizens, NGOs, and other specialists in deciding bus routes.
Partnership with bus carriers, police, and other organizations.
Seoul sought out the active cooperation of bus carriers in ensuring the safety and convenience of the night buses. In particular, the city encouraged the carriers to screen night drivers carefully before selecting them for the routes and provide safe driving training as well as perform maintenance work on the buses in advance. The city also asked local police precincts to provide assistance in cases of bus malfunctions and to carry out the Safe Company Service to ensure women and other vulnerable passengers return to their homes safely after alighting from the night buses.
| 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
Financial resources: Joint Proceeds Management Fund.
The Owl Bus Program required a significant new financial commitment, particularly in the aspects of payment for drivers and other involved personnel, installation of new safety features such as speed bumps, and creation of new bus route maps and the required signage.
Seoul leveraged the Joint Proceeds Management Fund, maintained by semi-public bus carriers together, to cover the cost. The fund enabled Seoul to operate 45 buses, assign 36 drivers and 18 monitoring agents, and make other necessary changes at no cost, rather allowing for contribution to the fund.
Technical resources: Making the best use of existing resources and data.
Existing systems provided the data upon which the Owl Bus Program plan was based. The New Transportation Card System, for example, provided considerable data in many areas including the number of passengers by hour and bus stop, while the call volume data provided to the city by KT allowed for further analyses leading to optimized program operation.
Seoul also updated its Bus Management System to ensure better monitoring of night buses in operation, and created the Bus Information System and a related smartphone application for easier access to bus schedules by the public. New screens were installed inside buses to provide real-time updates—via the Bus Management System—on bus schedules and others to passengers and drivers.
Human resources: Experienced all-round personnel.
Transportation experts conducted systematic monitoring and analyses of bus operation data in the beginning phases of the project, discerning the improvements needed and how to go about making them. These experts played a vital role in determining the feasibility and design of the Owl Bus Program, and now that the program is underway, regularly convene to conduct systematic analyses of time-series data and coordinate improvement requests.
Owl Bus drivers are comprised of only experienced and skilled day bus drivers who are selected for their exemplary driving records (no accidents), their years of experience driving buses, and their high scores on passenger satisfaction surveys. Owl Bus drivers are given additional training and go through a testing period before they are assigned to night buses. The Owl Bus Program actually created more jobs not just for drivers, but for mechanics as well, given the increased level of bus maintenance needed. Monitoring agents—who are responsible for vehicle coordination and cooperation with police in the event of an accident—were also newly hired as part of the Owl Bus Program.
Physical resources: Vehicles and public garages.
Seoul City saved the cost of purchasing new vehicles for the program by instead putting fallow vehicles and reserve vehicles back into circulation at no extra cost. This also helped to minimize the initial investment.
Moreover, the city made use of existing public garages on the outskirts of Seoul, which include parking spaces and lounges for drivers. The use of these public garages enabled the city to secure active participation from bus carriers as well.
| 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
Nine new night bus routes, thanks to civic participation.
The growing demand on the part of the public for additional night bus routes led the city to conduct quantitative analyses on passenger movements and field investigations, the results of which formed the basis for the launch of nine new night bus routes.
Telecommunication service provider KT provided the city with call volume data for the later hours, allowing experts to analyze the patterns and density of passenger movements throughout the city and carefully assess road and traffic conditions before deciding on the bus routes. The city finally established a new network of nine bus routes, resembling the spokes of a wheel, which connect the major urban and business centers to residential areas on the outskirts of the city. Field investigations of road and traffic conditions and analysis of passenger concentration also helped to determine the locations of bus stops along the routes.
The new network of night bus routes is now crucial for the safe transportation of citizens in the later hours.
Enhanced public trust in, and familiarity with, public policies.
Civic participation was indispensable to the whole project from the beginning. It was, after all, with citizens’ input that Seoul named the program and decided on the new bus routes. The program is now praised by the public as one of the best policy initiatives of the city government. It has greatly enhanced the public’s trust in, and familiarity with, public policies.
Greater convenience for the public, new value for bus operation structure.
By making the most use of existing public transport resources and adopting new and efficient management tactics, the Seoul Owl Bus Program got off the ground with minimal extra cost while greatly improving public mobility and convenience and adding new value to the intra-city bus operation structure. The Seoul Owl Bus Program has generated a 300-percent return on investment, and proceeds are reinvested into the program to improve its quality and operation.
Maximized operational efficiency, based on cooperation among bus carriers.
The operational efficiency of the Seoul Owl Bus Program was achieved in part from coordination among participating bus carriers in starting schedules—all leave their garages at the same time—and from the establishment of new bus stops that would make it easier for passengers to transfer to different buses. In the beginning, the bus carriers were reluctant to coordinate their operations since no precedent existed in the bus industry for such cooperation. As Seoul began to provide incentives and other forms of policy support, however, the bus carriers became more willing to participate in the program over time. Such coordination has also been applied to rush hours during the day.
| 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
Throughout the entire process of developing and implementing the Seoul Owl Bus Program, the city government actively sought out opinions from citizens and experts.
1. Conceptualizing a night bus program and trial operation (November 2012 to April 2013).
The city was extremely transparent with citizens about its plan for the Owl Bus Program from the beginning stages. From December 2013 to January 2014, experts surveyed citizen movement in the late and early morning hours to determine the specifics of the night bus plan. The results of the survey and the field verification were shared with the public over the Internet (e.g., the city’s official blog and website, social networking sites) as well as through mobile media, with the goal of giving citizens the opportunity to engage fully in the project.
2. Expanding the program and deciding on the brand (May 2013 to September 2013).
Systematic and continuous monitoring is an integral part of Owl Bus Program operations. In the beginning stages Seoul conducted a poll with 500 citizens, including night bus users, to gauge areas in need of improvement. The survey participants gave the program a satisfaction score of 80 out of 100, praising it as “the best transportation policy launched by the city government,” and 88 percent expressed the need for expansion of the program. Thus more routes were added, bringing the total routes to nine.
Citizen input was also sought in relation to bus routes. The original route of bus N61, for instance, covered the Nambu Circle and Dongil-ro, but was changed to accommodate the higher volume of passengers on Hyoryeong-ro and Neungdong-ro nearby the Nambu Bus Terminal and the entrance to Konkuk University. Likewise the original route of bus N13, Jangchungdan-ro, was changed to pass through Dongho-ro. These route changes were made based on citizen input and demand.
3. Implementing follow-up measures post launch (September 2013 and onward).
Seoul City has monitored the Owl Bus Program on a daily basis since its launch, and continuously gathers opinions from program users. In December 2013, the city once again analyzed data gathered under the New Transportation Card System, the results of which formed the basis for expansion and readjustment of bus routes, which in turn enabled the program to serve twice as many passengers as before.
In February 2014 the city conducted a fact-finding investigation into the safety of night buses, requiring carriers to replace worn-out vehicles and provide updated and comprehensive safety training for drivers and related personnel. One month later the city undertook systematic analysis of traffic volume at specific hours and on specific routes over a set time period, based on which plans were devised to minimize bus congestion.
| 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
Objections from bus carriers and taxi companies.
Although the city government made previous attempts—in 2007 and 2011—to adopt a night bus program, it ran into severe opposition from the parties most likely to be affected by the program: namely, bus carriers and taxi companies. Bus carriers were at first very hostile to the program, believing that costs would increase due to insufficient passenger demand. Taxi companies and drivers organized major demonstrations, arguing the negative impact such a program would have on their livelihoods.
Persuasion and coordination.
The success of the Owl Bus Program crucially depended on support from bus carriers and taxi companies. Seoul held numerous roundtable meetings with these parties, relentlessly searching for points in common. The city finally persuaded them that the majority of Owl Bus passengers were not wealthy enough to use taxis, and that taxi drivers themselves and their family members would also benefit from the program.
Scientific solutions to the problem.
① Optimized bus routes.
Seoul sought to assuage bus carriers’ worries by optimizing the network of night bus routes to meet demand most efficiently. The city entered into an MOU with KT from which it secured data on the volumes of calls made at different points in Seoul during the later hours. Analyses of three billion or so call data helped the city identify major hotspots with high numbers of bus passengers, and optimize bus routes accordingly, which in turn helped to minimize program cost.
② Maximized management and operation.
Several initiatives were carried out to maximize operation of the Owl Bus Program, such as coordinating bus operation start times; designating bus stops in consideration of passenger transfer; and establishing 30 to 40-minute service intervals. These efforts allowed for much more efficient passenger transport.
At the beginning of the program some citizens voiced worries over possible inconveniences such as delays, and bus carriers were standoffish because there was no precedent in the bus industry of the coordination that was required of them in order for the program to work. Systematic cost-benefit analyses shared with these parties finally persuaded them to accept the program and its innovative approach. The Owl Bus Program overcame a rocky beginning to become a huge success: it now transports around 6,000 passengers every night.