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Plan to hike bus, subway fares draws outcry

Seoul City government plans 22 percent rise for public transport next year


Politicians have spoken out over the weekend against the Seoul administration’s plan to raise bus and metro fares by 200 won, or 22.2 percent, by next year.

They claimed that restructuring and enhancing the efficiency of the city’s fiscal status should be prioritized over “wringing out” citizens’ pockets.

According to the Seoul City government’s plan, fares will be raised by 100 won from the current 900 won as early as November and by another 100 won by early 2012. The Seoul City Council is currently reviewing the feasibility of the upcoming hike.

The administration explained that the chronic deficit has crippled the public transportation system.

Seoul Metro, running subway lines 1 through 4, and the Seoul Metropolitan Rapid Transit Corporation, operating lines 5 through 8, marked 470 billion won in losses last year, up 24 recent from the 380 billion won deficit in 2007. The bus sector, which the city administration compensates for the loss, was also 300 billion won in the red last year, up 86 percent from 2008.

The main reasons for the snowballing deficit were soaring fuel costs, maintenance and the increase in the number of legal free riders including the elderly, the disabled and infants.

Nevertheless, the plan is facing opposition from politicians.

A councilor confided in a local daily that the council is unlikely to approve the price hike.

“Living costs have soared in a rapid pace last year. It will not be easy for the council to approve the plan that could impose an additional burden on citizens,” he said.

Should the council disapprove, the hike would be withdrawn.

Rep. Chung Hee-soo of the ruling Grand National Party pointed out that subway operators need to restructure themselves first.

“The president of the SMRTC’s salary is 150 million won a year. The personnel fees take up 60 percent of annual turnover. The public corporations should prioritize in trimming the costs ahead of raising the fees,” he said on Friday at the National Assembly’s annual audit into state affairs.

The public transportation fare hike was a hot issue among Seoul mayoral candidates, too.

Park Young-sun of major opposition Democratic Party and Park Won-soon, independent frontrunner, both opposed the increase.

“It is true that the metro system is struggling from chronic deficits,” said Park Won-soon. “But the price is deeply related to the daily lives of the 10 million Seoulites. The price hike will be very difficult,” he added.

Park Young-sun said she will not push for the raise if she is elected.

“The metro corporations are run by President Lee Myung-bak’s cronies and are supported with 300 billion won in state subsidies,” she said.

“I think making the organization transparent and efficient are the most important and effective ways to settle the problem,” she added.

By Bae Ji-sook (baejisook@heraldcorp.com)
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