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Seoul Subway Setting New Standards

Seoul Subway Setting New Standards
I've lived in New York City for seven years. And, over the course of those seven years, the city's subway system has seemingly conspired to ruin my life.  

There are countless meetings I have sprinted into late because the train decided to stop running. I was once stuck underground at 2 a.m. for an hour and a half. I have been crushed by crowds on L trains, stranded on F trains, and paid way too much for Ubers after giving up on A trains ever arriving.  

That is to say, I am not someone who has a ton of faith in the subway. With "Train Daddy" Andy Byford leaving his post as the chief of New York City Transit, there doesn't seem to be much hope for the future of New York City's public transportation this point.  

So, I traveled halfway across the world to Seoul, South Korea. Seoul's subway system is widely regarded as one of the best in the world, if not the best. Business Insider has written about its greatness before. So has,Jalopnik, and CNN.  

Being in a country alone where you don't speak the language, it is easy to feel like a bit of an idiot all the time. Since I arrived in Seoul, most of my conversations have been "thank you," "hello," and nodding while smiling. Recently, after fumbling a street food order, I added insult to my own injury by poking a hole in my cup of eomuk and spilling fish cake broth all over myself. 

When it comes to transportation, I don't even need the excuse of not speaking the language to not know what is going on. I just fully lack a natural sense of direction. When I was heading to JFK Airport to catch my plane to Seoul — an airport I have flown out of countless times — I got on the subway heading the wrong direction because my muscle memory wanted me to go to my office. 

What I'm trying to say is: if I can understand a public transportation system, it is so straightforward a child can navigate it

Seoul subway kiosk

You can pick Korean, English, Chinese or Japanese signage while buying tickets 

The first step of falling in love with the Seoul subway system is figuring out how to pay.

T-Money tickets in the form of regular cards, but forms of this design 

I will admit that my love affair with the Seoul subway system got off to a rocky start. To board the subway, you need to use a T-Card, a Cash Bee card, or an app linked to these cards. You can buy a T-Card at the airport, convenience stores, banks, or most major stations. However, you can't buy one at every station — something I found out attempting to board the subway for the first time on the Shinbundang Line.  

Luckily, you can buy a single ride pass anywhere in the subway system. So, I got a one-way ticket to my destination in Ganganam, which was near a station where I could buy a T-Money card. By the time I was heading to Gyeongbokgung, I had already reloaded my card once.  

Once you have your T-money card, things get much easier. Instead of having to select where you are going, as with the single-use card, just make sure your card is loaded up and head towards the tracks. 

Nearly all stations have platform screen doors that only open when the train pulls into the station. also While you're waiting, you can check when the next train will arrive on a screen. Almost all stations have large screens that show the location and time of the next train with great accuracy. (It seems like a firm will to not allow even a single minute of error.) 

Really, you don't even need the signs to tell you when the train is going to turn up. I never had to wait more than five minutes for a train, unlike in New York when I frequently find myself waiting indefinitely or letting over-crowded trains pass, hoping for room on the next one.  Plus, when a train is pulling up, the station plays a musical cue and an announcement of an incoming train in both Korean and English. 

The trains themselves are clean and quiet, with specially reserved seats for pregnant women. If there isn't anyone who is pregnant on the train, the brightly colored pink seats will remain empty. The corner section with red or purple seats is reserved for seniors and handicapped people. (It was very impressive that this place was always empty for the elderly and infirm, no matter how crowded even during rush hour. ) 

I snagged a seat and realized something incredible. On a cold, 20-degree day in Seoul, I had happened upon a train... with heated seats. 

 This was so far from the cold hard seats of the New York City subway I almost teared up.  Plus, there was WiFi. Most of the lines and stations have at least some WiFi options, although my phone was iffy on connecting to some of the free networks available. Seoul is upgrading the system, with plans to have free public WiFi available across the entire network.  

Subway Etiquette 

As tourists, it is our responsibility to abide by the rules and common courtesies of any country we visit. As for Korea, there are a couple good practices that we tourists need to observe when using the subway. Although you might encounter some offenders, and unless you want to get dirty looks (and maybe even get cursed at in Korean), you should follow these simple practices  

  1. Always stand behind the numbered platform lines. 
  2. Wait for passengers to exit before entering the train car. 
  3. Do not seat on train seats designated for PWD, pregnant women, and senior citizens. 
  4. Stand on the right side of the subway escalators if you are not rushing. 
  5. Refrain from making noise and eating inside train cars 

Source: Kate Taylor from Business Insider

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