Anyone who has spent time in Seoul would marvel at the city’s outstanding public transportation system. Korea’s capital, teeming with over 10 million people, has a massive subway network that extends from outermost suburbs to the center: This is especially necessary as Seoul really does not have a true downtown, but at least three.
Buses also keep commuters moving with a dizzying variety of routes and schedules that confuse even the most savvy local. “Village buses” take residents to major thoroughfares and subway stations, city buses bounce along congested streets, and posh commuter buses take some of the burden off of the subways. Add the folks who still insist on driving their own cars and the ubiquitous taxis, and you still have plenty of exhaust that would give any mega-city the pollution blues. Add the fact that South Korea is dependent on imported fossil fuels, and one can understand why the Koreans have become large investors in battery technologies and renewable energy. Seoul’s city government has taken a step with another addition to the city’s transport options.
Seoul is now home to a fleet of full sized electric buses that run along a route that circles the city’s iconic Namsan mountain. The buses are about 12 yards long, and run up to 55 miles on a single charge, which only takes about 30 minutes. The battery is a high-capacity lithium ion battery that like some “hybrid” autos, collect and reuse energy when they drive downhill. A 322 horsepower engine helps the bus reach a maximum speed of about 60 miles per hour, which is more than adequate as Seoul’s streets will not be completely car-free anytime soon. Adding to the buses’ efficiency is that the body of the vehicles is made of a composite material that reduces their weight.
For now the electric buses have replaced five of the fourteen buses than run the Namsan route, giving the city’s transportation agency time to deal with any glitches the buses may encounter. Eventually all the route’s buses will be replaced with the new vehicles, which are the result of a joint project between Hyundai Heavy Industries and Hankuk Fiber, which only entered into the agreement in September 2009.
Seoul’s government has set a goal of 120,000 electric vehicles hitting the city’s roads by 2020, which will include an initiative to have half of the city’s buses be electric. The goal is ambitious, but judging by South Korea’s impressive progress the past four decades, do not be surprised if Seoul meets that goal–and in the meantime hosting delegations that used to visit Amsterdam to view a model of sustainable living.