According to Seoul Metro’s “2020 Transit Data Analysis,” its annual ridership fell to 1.98 billion in 2020, down 747.1 million from the previous year’s total of 2.73 billion.
Seoul Metro attributed the decline to fewer people using public transportation as many telecommuted from home and refrained from outdoor activities as part of social distancing efforts amid a global pandemic. In fact, according to annual ridership data, the total number of passengers rose and fell in correlation with the level of social distancing protocols mandated by the city and the central government.
The slump in the total number of passengers led to a sharp decline in Seoul Metro’s annual income, which also fell 27 percent to 1.22 trillion won ($1.1billion), further adding to losses of the subway corporation, which has been struggling due to its cumulative deficit from free transit for senior citizens and passengers with disabilities, without proper financial backing from the central government.
Fridays saw the heaviest ridership with a daily average of 6.33 million, while Mondays saw the least with 6.04 million. The daily average for Sundays and national holidays halved to 2.74 million.
With the exception of rush hour commutes (7-9 a.m. and 6-8 p.m.), ridership plunged at almost all hours of the day, as Seoul Metro suspended late-night public transportation and adjusting hours of operations starting April 1 last year. The public also cut down on unnecessary outdoor schedules and activities in line with national and citywide guidelines to help contain the spread of the virus.
The three hardest-hit subway stations were Myeongdong Station (Line 4), Sports Complex Station (Line 2), and Itaewon Station (Line 6). Stations in Myeongdong and Itaewon saw a slump in passenger traffic as the nation barely saw overseas tourists during the pandemic, while sports games were suspended during last year’s crisis, leading to the decline in foot traffic for the Sports Complex Station in Jamsil.
Stations near universities also saw the number of passengers shrink as many colleges and universities adopted online lectures. These include Ewha Womans University Station and Hanyang University Station (Line 2) as well as Dongguk University Station (Line 3).
On the other hand, Jichuk Sation (Line 3), Sangil-dong Station, and Magok Station (Line 5) saw their foot traffic rise despite the pandemic, as they welcomed newly established residential and commercial districts nearby.
Seoul Metro said it will strive to accommodate its passengers by putting their safety above all else, strictly abiding by government mandated guidelines and regulations to overcome the pandemic in 2021. It also plans to arrange additional staff and increase service frequency to ensure passenger safety when it anticipates a sudden influx of passengers, including during major events, adverse weather, and natural disasters.
Furthermore, Seoul Metro has adopted stringent sanitation and disinfection protocols within all its trains and stations since January last year when health authorities raised contagious disease alert levels to “critical.” It is working closely with central contagious disease and quarantine authorities to identify and trace the routes of confirmed patients, and to immediately disinfect areas in question.
“2020 was a rough year for Seoul Metro as we saw a sharp decline in passengers due to the pandemic,” said Kim Sangbum, CEO of Seoul Metro. “And as we expect that it will take us a while before we overcome the outbreak, Seoul Metro will continue to make every effort to ensure the health and safety of our passengers this year by rigorously observing disinfection and sanitation protocols.”