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  • Travel Safely Around the City Even at Night With Seoul’s “Owl Bus”

  • Transportation SMG 6759

    Travel safely even at night with Seoul’s “Owl Bus”

    • Owl Buses are nighttime buses operating between midnight and 5 am with routes servicing the areas of Seoul with the largest commuter populations
    • Voted the city’s “Best Policy” by Seoul citizens in 2013, the Owl Bus has also received the Presidential Award that same year in the category of Informatization of Local Governments
    • Optimal routes for the Owl Bus were created using Big Data analysis of people’s use of late night taxi cabs and over 3 billion phone calls

    What exactly is the “Owl Bus”?

    “Owl Buses” are buses that operate along certain routes throughout the city late at night.
    These Owl Buses light up the dark night of Seoul, safely carrying late night commuters home from work.

    Owl Buses are numbered beginning with the letter N for “Night” followed by a two digit number that designates the bus route.

    Night Bus (Owl Bus) Character Night Bus (Owl Bus)


    In cities around the world, public transportation is limited late at night after the buses and subways have stopped running for the day. However, in Seoul, people no longer have to rush to catch the last bus or subway late at night. Workers or small business owners returning home after late shifts, drivers for hire who work night shifts, and people who leave for work very early in the morning, such as sanitation workers, have longed for a means of public transportation that operates outside standard business hours. Building upon an idea originally proposed by a Seoul citizen, Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) started trial operations of Owl Buses in April 2013 along two different routes. In September 2013, more routes were added, and as of June 2016, a total of 47 Owl Buses are now in operation along eight routes, running every 30 to 50 minutes between midnight and 5 am.

    Chosen by Seoul citizens as the city’s “Best Policy”

    After the Owl Buses went into operation, SMG conducted a survey to assess user satisfaction. A total of 90.1 percent of Seoul citizens surveyed answered that they considered the Owl Buses necessary, and 80.1 percent of those who had used Owl Bus services answered that they were satisfied with their experience. In another survey of the general public and Seoul government officials conducted in 2013 after the initiation of Owl Buses, the Owl Bus service was ranked No. 1 among 33 major policies implemented in Seoul that year. The service/policy was subsequently chosen as an excellent example of the informatization of local governments and even received a presidential award.

    Owl Buses have also received attention from overseas. At the 2014 Government Summit held in Dubai, the Owl Bus was introduced as a successful policy created through the use of Big Data, garnering huge interest from the local media.

    10 policies in 2013 chosen by Seoul citizens A late night Owl Bus in operation


    At home, Seoul citizens have praised the Owl Buses for allowing them to save money. Typically, those who used the Owl Bus instead of taking a late night taxi were able to save KRW 7,050 per person. The introduction of the Owl Bus has also led to an annual KRW 2.4 billion decrease in fuel costs since there is a decreased demand for private vehicles late at night.

    In addition, the policy has also contributed to the improvement of air quality by reducing 498 tons of carbon dioxide emission per year. An average of about 7,700 people use Owl Bus services each day, and the demand for more buses and routes continues to increase.

    Efficiency through Big Data Analysis

    You may ask, “So how exactly was Big Data used for the development of Owl Bus services?” Before Owl Bus services went into operation, SMG faced several challenges in the planning stage.

    In Seoul, there are over 7,000 city buses evenly distributed and in operation throughout the city during the day. Adding late night buses to this already large number of buses meant that bus parking would be even more limited, and Owl Buses could only run in certain areas that had enough buses and garage spaces. Despite the need to identify specific areas for Owl Bus operation, the government lacked the data needed to conduct an analysis for route planning. The government was unable to simply extend the daytime routes into the nighttime routes because less people used public transportation at night and not all the routes would be needed.

    Owl Bus Routes


    As a general practice, SMG conducts analyses of the demand for buses and routes during the day based on data collected from the use of transportation cards. However, since public transportation had not been operated late at night prior to the initiation of Owl Buses, there was no transportation card data available that could be applied to nighttime demand.

    To overcome this obstacle, SMG decided to first create tentative late night bus routes and test the planned routes using Big Data. Through Big Data analysis of over 3 billion phone calls, the government began to more accurately estimate demands for public transportation late at night, starting with areas with a high commuter population.

    Efforts by the government to provide a safe means of nighttime transportation for citizens not only centered around data analysis of 3 billion phone calls—data provided by the major telecommunication companies of Korea—but also involved the analysis of 500 pieces of data related to people’s late-time taxi cab use.

    As a result of these analyses, SMG was able to identify areas in the city with a high number of commuters and learn more about their patterns of movements. Based on the data analyses, SMG was able to successfully test and alter the tentative routes to finalize routes for operation.

    Traveling along the optimal routes that were planned using Big Data, the late night Owl Buses were able to achieve more than a 40 percent operational efficiency with less than 1 percent of the buses in operation. Also thanks to Big Data, regional conflict surrounding the planning of routes was eliminated since the routes were based on objective and logical data analysis. SMG continues to make use of Big Data in a number of its policies, including its “Taxi Match-making” service, which uses data on the day, time, and region in which people use taxi cabs to make it easier for Seoul citizens to catch a taxi.

    Seoul Buses Are up All Night!

    Owl Bus Routes Owl Bus Stop


    Owl Buses have been operating successfully thanks to a combination of science and statistics and efforts by the government to create policies that truly improve people’s daily lives. An analysis of collected data revealed that the Owl Bus service is used mostly on Friday nights. In Korea, Fridays are the last day of the work week and are often referred to as “bulgeum”, meaning “Burning Friday.” Many Koreans enjoy late night outings and gatherings on these bulgeum, since they don’t have to work the next day. As a result, there are many passengers on Owl Buses on Friday nights, heading home after a night of partying.

    The Owl Buses, however, are not just for the convenience of Seoul residents. Foreign visitors can also travel easily throughout Seoul using the Owl Buses, enjoying the exciting night scenes of popular tourist attractions including Hongdae, Gangnam, and Hangang River in Yeouido. Owl Buses also allow first-time visitors who may be unfamiliar with Seoul to immerse themselves in the city’s nightlife by more safely visiting restaurants and bars late at night.

    So whether you decide to spend a quiet night at home or party into the wee hours of the morning, remember that Seoul’s nighttime Owl Buses are working hard throughout the night, helping transport you to where you need to go.