Airport shuttle buses were the hardest hit, slashing the number of total passengers to a mere 2.1 million in 2020, down a whopping 85.4 percent or 12.4 million from the previous year, with monthly passenger totals plummeting by as much as 99.1 percent in May. As such, total income for airport buses tumbled 85.7 percent year on year.
February’s passenger total fell 40.8 percent as the outbreak escalated, with March to December monthly averages taking a nosedive of 97.1 percent. Airport shuttle operators had to temporarily suspend most of their routes by mutual consent with city officials.
Village shuttle buses (“Maeul Bus”) were also hit hard, with its passenger totals dropping 27 percent to 115 million last year. Monthly figures dropped by about 40 percent in March and December during an escalation of the outbreak. Among the top ten village shuttle bus routes with the most significant losses, eight of them pass through universities and major subway stations, attesting to a shift toward online lectures. Most autonomous districts in Seoul have reduced operations of 175 out of 249 village shuttle bus routes by as little as 17 percent to as much as 30 percent.
Intra-city buses were also hit, with total passengers for the city’s 356 routes falling by 22.7 percent from the previous year. Passengers on routes for downtown business districts, as well as circulating Yellow Buses that pass through tourism spots, such as Namsan and royal alaces, plunged 36.9 percent due to a lack of commuters and tourists.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government and city bus operators have worked closely to beef up disinfection and sanitation protocols to ensure the health and safety of passengers. Still, bus operators and city officials are calling for urgent measures to mitigate permanent closures and termination of bus routes during a protracted period of social distancing.
“This is completely different from past outbreaks involving SARS or MERS,” said one operator of airport city shuttle buses. “We are desperately asking the government to step in to prevent bus companies from going bankrupt.”
“Seoul buses, which have long been the key mode of transport for our citizens, are struggling amid the global pandemic,” said Hwang Bo-yeon, Deputy Mayor for City Transport. “We will urge the National Assembly and the central government to consider their plight and seek effective measures for their recovery. We made sure that there were no infections on buses last year, and we will continue our joint efforts to ensure the safety of passengers.”