When they get under my skin
We live in a free, democratic country. That is a good thing. Until some people do things that bring disruption into my life. I am talking about people who drive for no apparent reason.
I own a car like most people in Seoul. It is basically used for my wife’s trips to the supermarket and transporting the children late at night.
I read an article recently which said a survey showed people drive because they ``happen” to own a car. That was the dumbest thing that I had ever heard.
By engaging in ``mindless” driving, they cause damage to people like me who, wisely, decided a long time ago that public transport is so much better.
While numbers cannot be cited accurately, I can tell you for a fact that my monthly expenditure on moving around is much less than my staff who insist on driving their own cars.
The public transport system, with its expansive subway and bus networks, is probably one of the best in the world. And the beauty of it all is that transfers are free.
Take the case of taxis. We have some 70,000 cabs in Seoul. Stand in any part of town and you will be able to flag one down in no more than 5 minutes. And the fare is next to nothing.
This is why I insist that we should charge 4,000 won (about $3.5) per liter for gasoline for private motorists, those who insist on driving for little purpose and jamming up the roads.
Then there is the case of cab drivers who make almost no money after driving 12 hours a day. This is tough work and at the end of the month, they take home about 1.5 million won (about $1,300).
I have to say that this is not fair. People in Seoul have so many options in terms of public transport and many of them decide to sit behind the wheel only because they own a car.
Their rationale is something like this: I paid a lot of money to buy a vehicle and I pay heavy automobile taxes and insurance premiums, therefore I should drive my car as much as possible.
This is an interesting argument, since fuel costs are high you actually have to be at the wheel, and then there is the problem of parking. If you are so concerned about the taxes and insurance, why are you not aware of the money you are throwing away along with time, fuel costs and parking charges?
People say that there is serious traffic congestion in Seoul. This is true. But it is also true for all major cities around the world, from Tokyo and London to Paris and New York.
What is different is that Seoul has an exceptionally efficient public transport system, one which is extremely cheap. And you can travel so much faster than the average car.
For 1,050 won you can get to almost any part of Seoul, transferring from buses to the subway. A little further may only cost you an extra 100 won. Ever heard of anything like that elsewhere?
I have friends in California who drive 160 kilometers to and from work every day. Do you think that they are really excited about doing that? That’s why gasoline prices have to be lower in the United States.
In addition to that, the United States has plenty of energy resources which Korea does not. Therefore, there is a reason to be more careful about how we use our energy. It is a matter of national security.
When the prices of gasoline hit 2,000 won per liter, government officials, politicians and even the presidential offices of Cheong Wa Dae began discussing the need to lower taxes to take the pressure off inflation. This is such a joke.
Even when gasoline is at 10,000 won per liter, there will be people driving around and this is perfectly fine. Rich people need spend to sustain the economy.
But poorer people need to keep their pants on because there are so many other ways they can help keep the economy going: going out for dinner at a neighborhood restaurant or buying another tracksuit for the wife who has begun jogging in the early morning.
After all, it is a matter of perspective and a matter of making the right decisions. And we really have to get them right.
Jake J. Nho has been a journalist and a marketing executive for over the past 27 years in Seoul. He can be reached at email@example.com.