Namsan Electric Bus cruises into international limelight
As a jazzy vehicle with a shiny coat of green and fetching curvature glides silently along the crowded streets of Chungmu-ro, pedestrians turn and point as it stops to charge its battery at a station near the top ridge of Namsan.
Dubbed the Peanut Bus for obvious reasons, this literally and figuratively green bus is none other than the Namsan Electric Bus, Seoul’s newest form of public transport and the latest trophy in terms of green initiatives for the Seoul Metropolitan Government.
en route to Namsan
In addition to being a significant milestone of the city-wide effort to go green, the Peanut Buses are also heading Seoul City’s effort to promote Namsan as a visitor hot spot.
Three routes are available, with buses 2, 3 and 5 making roundtrips to and from the mountain. Each bus runs at a 10-20 minute interval and stops at major venues including Chungmu-ro, Dongguk University subway station, Namdae-mun market and Itaewon. The fare is fixed at ₩700.
Currently nine out of the 14 buses to Namsan run on electricity and the remaining five will be replaced by September.
About 1,000-3,000 passengers a day take the bus and many comment on the spaciousness, relative lack of noise and stylish exterior. Each bus accommodates up to 47 passengers at one time.
“The bus brings smile to the passengers' faces,"says Hoon-yong Lee, a veteran driver who’s been behind the wheel since the new bus rollout last December. "Many comment on how pretty it is when they get on board. Some are curious as to how it’s run and seem content to be part of the collective effort to save the environment. I know I am.”
The Peanut Bus made its debut while shuttling the G20 Seoul Summit delegates last year as the event’s official vehicle, one month before its commercial dispatch the following month.
The technology and design has been garnering international interest; earlier this year, transportation industry personnel from countries including Turkey, Japan, Chile and Denmark visited Seoul to benchmark and explore ways to adopt the specific technological know-how.
At the C40 Large Cities Climate Summit held at Sao Paulo, Brazil in June, Seoul representatives gave a presentation on the Namsan Electric Bus operation to a receptive international audience.
“Many countries were deeply impressed by our successful commercialization of the electric bus, which happens to be the very first in the world,” says Hyung-rae Song, a Seoul city government official in charge of the Green Car Project. “We get a steady stream of visitors from overseas for test-rides and discussions.”
To live up to expectations and boost the vehicle’s prowess, the government is working to increase the battery efficiency and iron out the kinks in the technology.
Currently, a fully-charged battery allows the bus to run for 80 kilometers (two or three rounds depending on each route) at an average speed of 20-40 kilometers per hour. The top speed is 100 kilometers per hour, and it takes 20-30 minutes to charge the battery.
“Occasionally we experience minor mechanical failures here and there." says Song. "This trial-and-error phase comes with being the trailblazer in the field. We’re certainly making improvements one step at a time and expect a qualitatively superior and stable technology and infrastructure by the end of this year."
The Seoul government plans to expand the number of electric buses to a whopping 377 by 2014 for routes shorter than 20 kilometers in the Gangnam and Yeouido area, and that’s only the short-term goal.
With ambitions running high to lead the world’s green car industry, Seoul plans to operate 120,000 green cars including electric taxis and establish 110,000 battery chargers by 2020.