Seoul used its citizens’ late night calls and texts to plan routes for a new night bus service. A telecom company provided the government with anonymous phone data, which officials used to determine the routes most heavily trafficked between midnight and 5am, when the city metro is closed. By implementing a more affordable means of nighttime transportation, Seoul saved citizens $1.2 million in taxi fares over three years.
Results & Impact
Seoul's Night Owl service reduced annual car trips by 2.3 million, with 7,000 people using the buses nightly. The partnership provided low-income workers, who are more likely to work night shifts, with an affordable means of transport, and improved safety for women traveling alone by choosing safe routes and ensuring buses are well lit
Seoul Metropolitan Government, Korea Telecom Corporation
Korea Telecom Corporation provided the Seoul Metropolitan Government with 3 billion call and text records for free. The government's Data and Statistics division used the data to analyse where people were traveling after midnight, and chose routes for its new night bus service based on the most heavily trafficked areas
Seoul, South Korea
Low-income residents, general public
Cost & Value
The initiative saved residents $1.2 million over 3 years
Running since 2012
Busan, South Korea’s second largest city, is implementing the scheme. Ulsan and Daejeon are in talks to do the same
South Korea’s capital is using data from its citizens’ late night phone calls and texts to map night bus routes.
Prior to the implementation of the bus scheme, night workers were forced to take taxis home during the hours of midnight to 5 am, when the Seoul metro was closed. A cab ride from the city to the outer boroughs cost $7, compared to a bus fare of about $1.60. The growing demand for taxis had outstripped supply, resulting in the spread of illegal cabs that overcharged riders.
Facing a budget shortfall, the city wanted to ensure the best routes were chosen for its night bus service. The Seoul Metropolitan Government partnered with Korea Telecom Corporation (KT) to analyse anonymous data from three billion call and text records, in order to determine where people where traveling after midnight. For example, if someone made a call from the city centre at 1 am, then sent a text from an outer borough an hour later, that data would be aggregated by Seoul’s Data and Statistics division to determine which are most heavily trafficked routes in the city. Three pilot itineraries were plotted in 2012.
The trial was immediately successful, with 220,000 citizens using the service within three months. The city expanded the Owl Bus service to nine routes, which more than 7,000 riders now use nightly.
By instituting the service, Seoul saved late night commuters $1.2 million in taxi fares from 2012 to 2015. The city also reduced car trips by 2.3 million annually by making city buses – which emit 80% less carbon monoxide than private cars – more readily available.
The partnership has been particularly beneficial to low-income communities, who are more likely to work night shifts in the city then commute home to the outer boroughs. The city also prioritised women’s security by choosing the safest possible routes and ensuring that buses are well lit. As a result, 12% more women felt safe traveling home alone at night.
Each bus is outfitted with LED lighting panels on the front and sides, to help passengers recognise them in the dark, as well as partitions to protect drivers from the possibility of attacks from drunk or aggressive passengers. The buses are also equipped with Wi-Fi.
The city reports that the bus routes have revitalised its late night economy, with movie theatres, shops and bars staying open later to accommodate nighttime customers.
The idea for the Owl Bus scheme initially came from a university student who suggested it on Twitter. Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon shared the idea on Facebook, and 30,000 residents expressed support for the new, data-based night bus routes.
Busan, South Korea’s second largest city, is replicating the project. Ulsan and Daejeon are in talks to do the same.
(Picture credit: Flickr/badtaste64)