Seoul: Metro (subway) notes

The Metro (subway) reminded me of the one in Taipei, i.e. efficient and easy to use:

  • Impressive network of 9 subway lines and 3 commuter rail lines, including one from both airports to downtown Seoul.
  • English language in addition to Hangul everywhere
  • Smart transit stored-value cards called T-Money (non-refundable W2000/$1.75 to purchase the card, then reloadable)
  • Short distance fares (to most tourist places) are the minimum W1000/$0.90 cash or W900/$0.80 with card
  • Card gives you a 10% discount over cash – simply tap the card to the reader on entrance (minimum fare is deducted, and balance shown), and again on exit (if fare is higher, additional amount is deducted; balance is shown again)
  • Station announcements made in Korean, English and Mandarin (sometimes also in Japanese)
  • The turnstile for station entrance/exit is designed for maximum efficiency: there is no blocking gate or physical turnstile, just tap the reader and walk through (I discovered what happens if you don’t pay: as I left for the airport, I pushed my luggage in first before I tapped the reader, and the gate closed and honked at me)
  • There are often monitors showing the time of the next train, sometimes with graphical indicators of where the train physically is, in relation to the previous 2 metro stations on the line.
  • Metro stations also all have numbers identifying them: a 3 digit sequential number within each line, where the first digit is the line number.
  • Some stations have platforms in the middle, some are split; either way, make sure you head to the correct platform by knowing either the end station or at least the next station in the direction you want to go
  • Sometimes the direction sign will list multiple key stations in that direction (not just the next/last station)
  • In the train, there is an indicator of whether the doors will open on the left or right for each station on the line map above the door, in the multi-lingual announcements and on the monitors (for trains that have that).
  • Lines 5678 are newer than 1234 – you see the 5678 “new metro” logo a lot
  • Both in trains and on platforms, a little musical ditty plays before the announcement of an arriving train or station; the music varies by line/direction and is a cute addition to the announcement.
  • Washrooms are clean; sometimes they are inside the station, sometimes they are outside of the paid area.
  • There is at least one cool Android app called “Seoul Subway” by Sungpil Jang (likely for IPhone too) with Seoul metro info that, even offline, will calculate a route between 2 stations including times of the next train(s), and tell you the car and door number for quickest transfer between lines (i.e. where the stairs/hallway to the next metro line is exactly). Wow.
  • There is also a cool online map with station search functionality.
  • Generally the metro is quite crowded; if I’m standing on a platform and there aren’t a lot of people, I probably just missed a train and the platform will get crowded before the next train arrives.
  • There is cell phone coverage and wi-fi in the trains, even underground.
  • I’d say 80% of people under 30 are using their phone (usually playing games or watching TV as they have fast connections) on the train.

Small negatives:

  • The metro doesn’t run very late, though the last train times are posted by the station entrance (in Hangul and English)
  • Transfers between lines can involve a lot of walking, as stations are rarely stacked on top of each other.
  • There are many stairs, not always with escalators (though there is usually an elevator somewhere). At one station I counted 60 stairs to get up to street level, though some are deeper than that.

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