In an era of complexity, many global cities are suffering from gridlock. To mitigate this problem, they are encouraging residents to take public transportation. Although these transportation systems are making strides to increase ridership, they are still not competitive with driving a private vehicle.
Local governments and transit agencies have tried unsuccessfully to encourage the public with fare reductions, smart cards like ORCA, and nicer bus facilities. But in South Korea, a simple, kid-friendly nudge got people on board.
Last year, the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) decorated buses to look like the popular cartoon ‘TAYO’ for Children’s Day, an annual event. Originally the promotion was temporary, set to last just a few weeks as a present to the city’s young residents. But unexpectedly, the public reception was overwhelming. The event drew over 40,000 riders, including many parents accompanying their young kids.
This response led to an unexpected consequence—parents who rode the bus with their kids kept riding after the promotion ended.
Many of the TAYO buses remain in service with the cheerful support of children and parents. The event was selected as ‘the most successful policy of Seoul’ in 2014, and now, with its popularity, it is being spread to other cities in Korea. The program has broad potential moving forward. It can be used not only for celebratory events but also for education on traffic safety and social programs.
The plan wont solve all of Seoul’s transportation problems, but it is an illustrative example of nudging people to take public transit that can be adapted to transit systems around the world, including here in Seattle.