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Seoul City to operate autonomous night bus

Passengers can board free of charge for now, while drivers will monitor buses to ensure safety

Dec. 3, 2023 - 14:44 By Son Ji-hyoung
This photo shows a Seoul Autonomous Night Bus during a pilot run. (Seoul Metropolitan Government.)

The Seoul Metropolitan Government on Sunday announced it would launch autonomous overnight buses for a pilot run beginning Monday.

The Seoul Autonomous Night Bus pilot run will include two buses that travel 9.8 kilometers between Hapjeong Station in western Seoul to Dongdaemun Station in eastern Seoul between 11:30 p.m. and 5:10 a.m.

Starting Monday, the buses will operate at an interval of 70 minutes at each stop across a total of 40 stops, and will pass through the Hongdae neighborhood and through Gwanghwamun and Jongno-gu in downtown Seoul.

According to the municipal government, the buses will not be completely unmanned during the pilot run, as two safety staff will be on board each bus.

The capacity of the bus will be limited to 23 seats, as standing passengers will not be allowed throughout the pilot run. The bus operator is working to develop a system to allow users to keep track of real-time information on vacant seats, according to a Seoul City official.

The buses will run free of charge for the time being, as Seoul City did not specify further details. However, every passenger must use a transportation card to board and disembark the bus to ensure that a discount is offered when transferring to other modes of public transport. Fares will likely be charged starting in the first half of 2024 once the authorities confirm the safety of the buses' autonomous driving features.

The Seoul Municipal Government said that behind the autonomous technology is a fifth-generation communication infrastructure that predicts the time left before the change of a traffic light.

Meanwhile, by the end of the first half of 2024, the autonomous bus line could be extended to reach Cheongnyangni Station in eastern Seoul.

Seoul already operates 167 night buses, dubbed Owl Buses, over 14 lines, as the Seoul Metro doesn't tend to operate after 1 a.m.