UPDATE: Bus service was returned to normal around the city and country this morning at 6:20 a.m. after staging a brief walkout in protest of a new parliamentary bill favoring taxis as public transport, according to Yonhap News.
BUSAN, South Korea — If you’ve ever had the thought, Korean taxis are so cheap; why bother taking the bus? then you might’ve been onto something. And that something has led to a bus strike on Thursday, November 22 and possibly not ending for a while.
A total of 48,000 buses will stop tomorrow, 2,511 of which run through Busan’s 132 daily routes. Seoul will be hit a bit harder, with some 7,500 buses running over 360 routes carrying approximately five million passengers.
The reason behind the strike is a parliamentary bill, which puts Korea on the road to acknowledging taxis as public transportation. Already, a bill has been passed by a parliamentary committee (read: not everyone in parliament agreed yet) that would enable cabs to legally use bus lanes and get some cash compensation from the government. There’s a vote on Friday with the full parliament to see if the rest of the gang agrees.
When Korea’s 17 bus unions got wind of this, they flashed a red light of their own.
‘There has not been a single public hearing on this issue, though we’ve expressed our position to the parliament and parties. This is nothing but an impromptu populist measure ahead of the presidential election,’ a bus association official told Yonhap News.
If the bill passes a floor vote on Friday, we will go on an indefinite strike.
In an appropriate city response, expect to see way more taxis (and, consequently, way more traffic jams, car horns and impolite lane changes) as well as extended subway hours for Thursday.
To bus, or not to bus
It’s tough to say whether this is, in fact, as the above-quoted bus rep noted, a last-minute grab by the ruling party towards the country’s 300,000 cab drivers’ votes. Certainly, the compensation clause in the bill is something that cabbies have been after for agesâsomething they themselves went on strike for this past summer, which sort of disappeared over time.
And even though it was only the parliamentary committee on land, transports and maritime affairs that agreed, unanimously, to put forth the new taxi-friendly bill in question this week, the greater Lee Myung-bak government isn’t as keen. The government says it hasn’t even figured out yet how it could afford taking taxis in under its umbrella.
Not that taxis are too expensive, mind you, but they ain’t cheap either: cabs annually receive around 760 billion won from various levels of government. (Buses, conversely, get 1.2 trillion.)
Because the ministry of transportation’s budget is only so big, naturally, some money has to come out of the bus funds; further down the road, Korea’s bus unions worry, this will lead to the government relying on them less and less.
Busan Haps will follow up and keep you posted as the story progresses.