Life in Korea & Tips

Guide on Public Transportation in Seoul: Buses

**EDIT**

As of June 27th, 2015 the public transportation fare (all in KRW) will increase as following:

  • Subways: +200 (from 1,050 to 1,250)
  • Buses: +150
    • Blue & Green buses: from 1,050 to 1,200
    • Red buses: from 1,850 to 2,300
    • Late night buses: from 1,850 to 2,150
    • Maeul buses (neighborhood buses): from 750 to 900

Children’s fares will remain the same.

This is the first fare increase in the last 3 years.

Source here


If you have lived in your home country all your life you may not have thought about this, but taking the public transportation is actually a big challenge when living abroad, specially if you are not fluent in the language. As I like analizing meaningless things, I have develop quite a knowledge about the bus and subway system in Korea. I have some useful apps that help me, but sometimes you will also see me standing in a bus stop looking at the different bus lines just for the sake of it. Today I’d like to share some of this knowledge, specially how to use the apps to move around the city without getting lost or going the complete opposite direction.


Buses

Buses are a different story. I wouldn’t recommend you to take a bus until you are confident in your basic Korean skills, such as asking for a particular stop or being able to recognize the place where you want to go. But sometimes, the easiest way to go somewhere is by bus and we need to confront our fears of getting lost or missing the stop (or dying in an accident since some bus drivers drive quite crazily)… So I’m here to help you use the buses in Seoul ^^

2015-05-19 19.17.01
Generic Bus stop. You can see the posters with the different routes here.
2015-05-19 19.27.12
Many of the bus stops have these pannels that show the minutes to the next arrival. The buses that appear on the bottom rectangle are less than 1 stop away.

 

Types of buses:

You will notice there are many different buses

  • The blue buses connect suburban areas to the downtowns in Seoul. They have an exclusive lane. Their code has 3 numbers and the basic fare is W1,050. They are operated by the City government
  • The green buses connect subway stations with nearby residential areas and other bus lines. Their code has 4 numbers, their basic fare is same as the blue ones, and they usually have more stops. These buses are operated by private companies.
  • Red buses are express buses that connect other places of the metropolitan area with the downtoan Seoul. Their code has 4 numbers and the basic fare is W1,850.
  • Yellow buses circle around downtown Seoul, connecting with other blue buses and main subway stations. The code is made up of only 2 digits and fares start at W950.
  • Maeul buses are also green, although less shiny, and they are just neighborhood buses. The code is also just 2 digits and the cost is W850.

Something I just learnt by researching is that the numbers behind the lines actually make a lot of sense. On blue (3-digits) and green buses (4-digits) the first digit indicates the area where the route begins, and the second digit indicates where the route ends. For the red buses the first digit is always 9, and the second indicates the area in which the route begins. For yellow buses, the first digit means the area where the bus circles. Finally, the buses that start with “8” are buses that operate on holidays or at rush-hour only.

Seoul & Surroundings. Zone map.
  • 0 : Jongno-gu, Jung-gu, Yongsan-gu – or North Downtown
  • 1 : Dobong-gu, Gangbuk-gu, Seongbuk-gu, Nowon-gu. (also Uijeongbu, Yangju)
  • 2 : Dongdaemun-gu, Jungnang-gu, Seongdong-gu, Gwangjin-gu. (also Guri, Namyangju)
  • 3 : Gangdong-gu, Songpa-gu. (also Hanam, Gwangju (Gyeonggi Province))
  • 4 : Seocho-gu, Gangnam-gu. (also Seongnam, Yongin) – or South Downtown
  • 5 : Dongjak-gu, Gwanak-gu, Geumcheon-gu. (also Anyang, Gwacheon, Uiwang, Ansan, Gunpo, Suwon)
  • 6 : Gangseo-gu, Yangcheon-gu, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Guro-gu. (also Incheon, Bucheon, Gwangmyeong, Gimpo, Siheung)
  • 7 : Eunpyeong-gu, Mapo-gu, Seodaemun-gu. (also Goyang, Paju)

Tips and ettiquete:

  1. First of all, remember to tap your T-money card when you get ON and OFF the bus, specially if you are transfering. If you observe a bit, there are some digital pannels at both front and back door for this. You will see a number that keeps increasing all the time, this is a counter to know how many km you have rode on the bus. If you don’t tap when you get off, the system cannot know how long you have rode for, and therefore will charge you the maximum fee (remember it goes by kms. like the subway).2015-05-19 19.36.25
    1. Tip: if you are more than 1 traveling with just one transportation card, you can tell the driver the number of people before tapping the card. If you can’t speak Korean, just point with your fingers.
  2. Sit down or grab onto the handles/bars/seats/whatever. Buses usually have a lane for themselves and they use this to drive extremely fast! They will also take curves faster than they should, considering their size. If you don’t want to fall down, make sure you’re standing stable.

    2015-05-19 19.35.54
    Google-colored bus handles
  3. When you’re approaching your stop, don’t forget to press the red button that you can find on walls, bars and ceiling. Some buses have screens that will show the name of the current and next stops, but sometimes the screens are not visible or not turned on. In that case, you will have to rely on your listening skills or place recognition.

    Press this if you want the bus to stop. In small stops, buses may skip them completely sometimes!
    Press this if you want the bus to stop. In small stops, buses may skip them completely sometimes!
  4. Buses can get really crowded at peak time or in busy areas. Don’t get stressed and prepare in advance. Get near the exit before arriving to your stop to avoid having to scream to the driver to wait. Also, remember to cede your seat to children, elders, pregnant and injured.
  5. Most long-distance buses that go from Seoul to surrounding cities go on the highway, and cannot allow (by law) people to stand during the trip. Therefore, if you see a counter on the bottom at the front of the bus, you will see how many seats are left.
People waiting for the bus in line. Line up and be patient!
People waiting for the bus in line. Line up and be patient!

Bus app

There are many bus apps, and many people also just use their map service (naver, daum…) to check on the buses. However, my favorite is SeoulBus. First of all, it is in English. I think it is a pretty clear and straightforward app and you can save routes and bus stops to your favorites to search schedules faster.

Seoulbus

On the top menu you can see “Favorites”, “Route”, “Bus stop”, “Nearby” and “More”. On the Route Menu, you can just type the route number you want to check (provided that you know which bus you wanted to take). Sometimes, you will see several options (since there are bus codes of 2, 3 and 4 digits), but the results will appear clearly codified in color (if its a blue bus, the number will be blue) and in the case of local buses, the specific region the bus belongs to. Be careful though, as these regions will be written in Korean (for example 수원, not Suwon). Also, if you’re searching for a night bus (for example N61), you can press on the “123′ next to the search bar to switch it to “Eng” and type letters.

Route

When you tap on a specific bus line, you will see the route with each of the stops, the stop code, and the operation hours. On the route, you can also see small bus icons that indicate the current location of the buses along the line. You can also see the route on a daum powered map by tapping the “location pin” icon. If you tap on “Info”, you can see a summary of the line: starting point, last point, interval, and service hours. Other options are the “Refresh” button and the “Favorite” button, that require no further explanation.

Route example Route Info example Route map example

On the “Bus stop” menu, you can search for a particular bus stop to see all the buses at the same time. Since the bus stop names are in Korean, this is only useful if you know Korean or if you are at the bus stop and check the stop code. Once you type a code and tap on the bus stop, you will see all the buses that stop there and how far away they are currently.

BusStop Nearby BusStop example

If you are out for a walk and just decided to take a bus home, you can also use the “Nearby” option. By turning on the GPS, the app will find your closest bus stops in a radio of 1 km. Just tap on whichever and you will get the info for that stop.

Nearby NearbyMap

It doesn’t seem that hard, right? 😀 I guess the hardest part is to know where you want to go to and the bus line you can use. I think that for this, it is better to use the maps application. What I usually do is searching the route on daum maps by public transportation, check the bus number (or buses numbers if there are transfers) and then check these buses on the bus app to know the exact schedule and how many stops there are in between, etc.

I hope this was helpful! Let me know if you have questions about it ^^~

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