Two electric car-sharing schemes in the city promote public awareness
By Kim Se-jeong
Many have heard of electric cars, but few know that they are available for rent in Seoul.
There are two programs, one operated by the municipal authorities and the other by the Korea Electric Power Corp. (KEPCO). The city program is bigger with nearly 140 cars, while KEPCO has only 20 vehicles.
All are the same model, the RAY EV, Kia Motors' electric car. The experience driving an electric car proves it affordable and convenient, but inner-city traffic can change everything.
How to use the service
Electric car-sharing programs in Seoul are membership services through two websites ― www.evshare.co.kr and http://topis.seoul.go.kr.
Anyone with a local driver's license is eligible. A user has to bring a card mailed by the operator to use the car. A smartphone application is also available.
A car-sharing user scans a membership card on a reader to enter the car. / Korea Times photos by Kim Se-jeong
Reservation is required, which can be done either online or by phone. A user chooses a pick-up spot and time. The cost is economical, also covering insurance. The one run by KEPCO costs 6,000 won per hour, whereas the city-government program is at 6,600 won per hour. A 24-hour rate is also available at 48,000 won.
Knowing the location of a close charging station is critical.
The city has 275 stations, although the Ministry of Environment, the main provider, is planning to increase the number.
Getting into the car, the first thing to check is the battery charge level. Kia's current model has the capacity of 16.4 kilowatts per hour, meaning it can travel up to 140 kilometers, though the average driving distance is 91 kilometers. Charging is free.
The most notable difference is the silence in the car. Starting the car and moving makes zero noise.
However, inner-city traffic is a complicating factor time wise.
A device inside a vehicle shows how much battery charge is left.
This reporter picked up a car in Samseong-dong and drove to Songpa-gu Office in Jamsil, and returned to the starting point, a 5.7-kilometer drive. It was Friday evening between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.., and took almost an hour.
Other users agree.
A user surnamed Kim said traffic congestion makes the battery run out much faster and he often pays additional charges.
Other than that, he was satisfied with the service.
As a self-employed businessman, Kim said he's been using it for four months now.
"Not owning a car, it is very convenient. I run errands with it."
At the end of the service, the user just has to stick a charger into the car at a charging station.
Car-sharing programs are membership services. Above is www.evshare.co.kr.
Noble goal, but distant dream
The car-sharing program has a very important goal: to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
This is especially important for Korea which is pressured to reduce the emissions blamed for climate change that may have devastating consequences.
"There are two reasons why electric cars are good. One is that they generate no pollution; and the other is that efficiency is three times higher than gasoline-run cars," said Lee Jae-hong of the automobile and aerospace industry division at the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.
But, putting the program into practice is not so easy because of the cost.
The cost of an electric car is much more than a gasoline-run one. The Kia RAY EV model costs around 40 million won. There is a government subsidy for corporate consumers, but not for individuals. The only exception is on Jeju Island.
The fact that KIA is the only local producer reflects the lack of interest by the business sector.
Foreign-brand electric cars are to be introduced starting from this fall, and market watchers are anticipating a price fall, but most people say it won't prompt the interest of the business community.
One prime reason for car producers' disinterest in the electric car business is charging stations. They are reluctant to install charging stations themselves, demanding the government do it. The government accepted the proposal, but it is a time-consuming process.
The two car-sharing schemes are new, less than one year old, but the number of users is growing. The city-run program, since its inception in May, now has roughly 12,000 users.
Jeju City has received attention in this endeavor.
The city already has 230 electric cars running, with 380 charging stations. Tourists on the island can also rent electric cars.
The local government will give subsidies to 160 chosen individual consumers who purchase electric cars by the end of October. The local government will also provide them with free charging stations at their home.