On 1st October, Seoul City changed the traditional walking rule for pedestrians: instead of the long-time habit of walking on the left, citizens now have to keep to the right. In accordance with this new rule, direction signs on escalators, moving walkways and subway stations were changed this month. On the first day of the change, however, people were a little confused about which direction they should take. Generally, people do not know why the system has changed. The present government seems to introduce new policies at the drop of a hat. The questions we should be asking then are: should we accept such things so passively? Is the new policy really necessary?
According to media and government sources, there are several reasons why the government decided to change the old walking direction. According to the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs, Koreans once walked on the right side. However, in 1921, the Japanese colonial occupiers introduced a keep-to-the-left-side policy in Korea. The current government in Korea wants to re-establish the old right-sided rule because they believe it will help reduce traffic accidents by 20 percent. The official said that most countries such as US, Canada and Spain, have taken the right-side rule; therefore, Korea is keen to keep in line with global culture.
Such arguments notwithstanding, Koreans have walked on the left side for over 90 years. Though the new change is good for passengers, it is not easy to switch from a long-standing custom. In subway stations, there are many direction signs; but people can barely see the signs saying “walk on the right" outside stations.
In Dongguk University (DU), students have also had trouble adapting to the new rule. DU has many staircases because of its hilly location. Sometimes there are too many students walking on them as they rush from class to class. As a result, most students are too busy to think whether they are walking on the right side or not. Therefore, some students may feel confused about which direction they should walk in. One student said after she went up the stairs: "I know I have to walk on the right side because I get on a subway everyday and see the "walking on the right" signs. I am used to this now, but I think some people are still confused." A similar situation is happening on the stairs located next to the Dongguk's 100th anniversary monument and also in the narrow hallways on campus.
It seems like only yesterday that the Seoul Metropolitan Government started using plastic cards for one-way travel on subways. Paper tickets were totally eliminated and now people are using a new type of ticket machine very well. This policy seems to have been tailored to the needs of citizens. Perhaps this is because many train users were already using plastic T-money or U-pass cards. "I think people tend to accept things more easily when they feel it might be convenient. For this reason, I expect that the traffic card system will be accepted easily and quickly." Lee Sung-og, a stationmaster of Dong-dae-ip-gu station said. "However, in the first stage of the change, we arranged officers around the ticket machine to any confused customers," he added.
On the other hand, a campaign for "getting rid of the 'passing lane' on an escalator" is useless. In 2002, the government recommended that people ride the escalator on the right part to leave the left side for people in a hurry to walk up the escalator quickly. Though this was useful for people in a rush, the machinery frequently broke down. For this reason, the government began to recommend "two lane standing lines". However, the campaign was almost useless. The stationmaster said: "the campaign is now likely to end in smoke. If one group stands on the escalator's empty side in rush hour, some people will get angry. Because people do not want to be on the receiving end of abuse, they leave the left side empty."
What has been learned in the cradle is carried to the tomb. People need more time to change their 90 year habit of walking on the left. The Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs said that they would make general agreement among people through public hearing or policy debates, and then they would continue educating them in order to achieve their goals. However, the government should make more effort to gain public understanding. "When the old policy gave way to walking on the right, there were not enough public announcements outside subway stations. To implement new policy, the government should first explain and give notice beforehand," the stationmaster concluded.
Kim Tae-hyang email@example.com
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