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Seoul City Promotes Pedal Power

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

One of the most high-flying Korean equities of this year is Samchuly Bicycle Co. This stock traded for a mere 2,730 won on Oct. 10, 2008. However, it quickly soared to 37,400 won as of May 15. There were jokes that Samchuly Bikes are not rolling, but instead are flying in the market. Another bicycle manufacturer, Very Good Leisure Co., has also enjoyed a soaring share price for some time, thanks to the series of government green transportation polices.

To effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the Korean government has announced its Green Growth policy, with green transportation a significant part of it.

The government's plan has set green targets for mass transportation as well. The share of passenger transportation by rail will be increased from 18 percent in 2009 to 22 percent in 2013 and 26 percent by 2020. The overall share for mass transit will be increased from the current 50 percent to 55 percent by 2013 and 65 percent by 2020.

As the tale of Samchuly Bicycle Co.'s share price hinted, bicycles will be promoted as one of the most convenient and important green transportation means. The volume borne by bike transport will be increased from 1.5 percent of the total passenger transport volume in 2009 to 5 percent by 2013 and 10 percent by 2020. Public bike rentals will be offered and national bike road networks will be expanded.

The Lee Myung-bak administration plans to build a 3,114 kilometer-long bicycle road around the coastline, investing 1.2 trillion won by 2018 in order to encourage bicycle riding. Insurance for cyclists was introduced recently and the government also plans to launch an annual international 'Tour de Korea' race beginning in 2012. A bicycle registration system will be introduced from next year to prevent thefts and a bike riders'-only subway car will be created, moreover bike-only lanes on major roads will be built to promote bicycle commuters.

Bike commuters were common in Korea in the 1960s and 1970s. But as the Korean economy rapidly developed, cars and motorcycles replaced bikes. However, commuters are thinking twice about pedaling to work for their health, to save money and to contribute to the fight against global warming.

President Lee Myung-bak said in his radio address that "bringing back pollution-free bicycles as a key means of transportation is a path we must take." Fortunately, it seems like bike riders are on the steady rise for leisure, sports and transportation. It is not uncommon to see salary workers show up to work with all the cycling gear - helmet, bicycle, water bottle and more.

According to the National Statistical Office, spending on bicycles rose 23.3 percent in the second quarter from a year ago. The figure has been on the rise since the third quarter of 2007, when it marked a 4.7 percent increase. It jumped by 29.9 percent in the first quarter of this year. This significant increasing expenditure on bicycles is due to increasing demand for it as well as the view of bicycles as a luxury good. Spending on bicycles is currently 57.1 percent higher than in 2005, while spending on cars dropped by 2.2 percent in the second quarter of this year.

In order to keep pace with this, the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) announced its master plan for 'low carbon and green growth,' which aims to spend a total of 45 trillion won (US$35 billion) by 2030 to make the capital one of the greenest cities in the world. The Seoul government plans to replace all buses and taxis with electric vehicles by 2020 and to increase the use of public transportation to 70 percent from the current 62.5 percent. Also, 207 kilometers of bicycle roads is planned. Other provincial governments and local authorities are building more bike roads.
The SMG started separating the bike roads and walking paths along the Han River in October 2007 and the 69.9 kilometer-long walk will be completed this year at a cost of 13.2 billion won ($11 million). The current bike roads along the Han River cover only 28 kilometers. On top of separating the bike path and pedestrian roads, the SMG expanded its bike trails to the borders between Guri, Gyeonggi Province, and Seoul. In addition to that, the SMG aims to rebuild five bridges with bike paths, including the Seongnae Stream Bridge. The city government expects the riverside to be transformed into a pleasant resting place for both pedestrians and bicycle riders.

It is expected that bicycles will be allowed on subways soon as part of the SMG's low carbon plan. A pilot program allowing passengers to board subway trains with their bicycles is in operation from October 4 to April next year. Initially bikes will be allowed only on Sundays and public holidays to avoid morning and night rush hour. Subway stations will also get bicycle-keeping spaces; Seokgye station has a bicycle keeping facility at the moment. Eight subway stations will have bicycle spaces by next February including the Jamsil Sports Complex, Ilwon, Samgakji, Ogeum, Korea University, Hwarangdae, Bonghwasan and Sinpung stations. Once the pilot program term is over, bicycles will be allowed on subway trains on Saturdays and after 2012 on weekdays as well.

In addition, the SMG aims to introduce a bike rental system for visitors to allow them to ride around in Seoul. This idea was inspired by Canada's Bixi and will be seen from early next year in Yeoido and Sangam Digital Media City. Bixi is a public bicycle sharing system. It was launched in May 2009 in Montreal, Canada. The system provides 3,000 bikes and 300 stations located around Montreal's central core. Seoul city government mayor Oh Se-hoon who recently visited Montreal, was impressed by the Bixi system and decided to launch a similar system in Seoul. For the pilot service, there will be 22 bike stations in Yeoido and 18 stations in Sangam Digital Media City. To use these bikes, people need to enroll and present a membership card.

Meanwhile, the SMG also celebrated its fourth car-free day on Sept. 22 by blocking the streets of Jongno and Teheran, which were the busiest streets in Seoul. Private cars were not allowed to drive on a 2.8 kilometer stretch of Jongno Street or a 2.4 kilometer section of Teheran Street in Gangnam, from Samseong Subway station to Yeoksam station. Buses were the only allowed public transportation on the Car-Free streets. Many Seoul citizens took public transportation such as buses and the subway, instead of private cars and enjoyed riding bicycles on the roads.

Seoul began its annual Car-Free days in 2006 to promote cleaner air and green transportation with less traffic congestion in order to reduce inconveniences to citizens, while at the same time encouraging people not to take private cars. All buses and the subway were free until 9 a.m. for commuters.

SMG Mayor Oh Se-hoon said that this event resulted in a 21.9 percent reduction in the use of cars and reduced pollutants in the atmosphere by 20 percent.

Other provinces are also very active in this green project. Currently, all 12 cities, provinces and 80 districts are involved. The city of Changwon, which is in South Gyeongsang province launched the public bike rental system "NUBIJA" last year in October. The name NUBIJA means going around and is also an acronym for 'Nearby Useful Bike, Interesting Joyful Attraction.'

Daejeon City also started a public bike rental system last year and is planning to increase the number of bikes. One of the popular tourist spots, Bukchon Hanok Village (traditional Korean housing district), provides free rental bikes and also tour guides in English and Japanese for foreign tourists.

Meanwhile, the SMG plans to replace all buses and taxis with electric vehicles by 2020. The president's office also introduced three electric vehicles for office use to promote carbon-free green transportation.

The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) recently showcased On Line Electric Vehicle (OLEV) in Daejeon. OLEV buses run on recharging roads in which power coils are buried. That is why these OLEVs do not have to be recharged unlike conventional electric vehicles. Daejeon city plans to replace the current fossil-fuel-burning public transportation with these OLEVs in the near future.

As part of the green and advanced transportation program, the Incheon Metropolitan City government and the Korea Road Transportation Association hosted the third International Road and Traffic Expo (ROTREX) 2009, the largest road and traffic exhibition in Asia, to showcase the latest road and traffic technologies including natural gas buses from Sept. 23-26 at Songdo Convensia.

About 450 booths from more than 150 road and traffic companies from Korea and abroad participated in the exhibition to display their advanced technologies and to penetrate both foreign and Korean markets. The exhibits were divided into four categories: road construction and maintenance, traffic signs and safety products, ITS and public transportation and parking systems and bicycles.

Exhibited items included a low floor bus, a natural gas bus, bus shelter, parking facility, parking control, pay and display systems and advanced traffic controls.

One of the popular exhibit items was the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute's USN (sensor network) based vehicle detection system, which is designed to detect the movement of vehicles based on changes in the magnetic field to save costs and be user friendly compared to the conventional loop detector.

The Road Engineering Association of Asia and Australasia (REAAA) conference was held with the theme 'Future Road: Safer, Greener and Smarter' during the expo. Lee Hyun-Sun, vice chairman of Hyundai Motors delivered the speech titled 'The Automotive Industry's New Era of Low Carbon, Green Growth,' which was received very well by the audience.

Although these green modes of transportation are still in their early stages, people are confident about their future prospects.

Samchuly Bicycle's investor relations representative said that there is no visible change yet in sales regarding the Seoul bike taxi system, but he is hopeful the public bike taxi system will accelerate sales for the company. Samchuly recently introduced electric bicycles targeting elderly people who may be too weak to pedal by foot.

The IR representative said, "Currently, the sales of electric bikes is under 1 percent. However, it will be part of the company's major profit sources in the near future. We are also planning to produce electric bikes in Korea from next year in addition to the current production in China."
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