Seoul Boosts Transit Ridership with Color-Coded Buses and Other Reforms

On July 1, 2004, the municipal government of Seoul, South Korea restructured its public transportation system to improve commuter satisfaction and provide a better integrated bus system to discourage private vehicle use, reduce traffic congestion and pollution, and improve quality of life overall for urban citizens.

Prior to the reforms, 60 percent of all commuters in the city complained about bus operations. In response, Mayor Lee Myung-Bak formed a committee to overlook the restructuring of 600 bus routes and bus lines, which were eventually separated into four categories, depending on destination. The buses and routes were color-coded—red, blue, yellow and green—for ease of understanding. As John Calimente of re:place magazine recently wrote, it “goes a long way towards solving the bus legibility problem.”

The restructuring involved redesigning the routes to complement the subway system, creating a comprehensive route identification system. It allotted designated lanes for buses, separating them from vehicular traffic to improve road safety and ease congestion. After the program was implemented, the level of complaints decreased to only 15 percent of commuters and transit ridership increased by 30 to 40 percent.