This article was last updated on January 4, 2018 to respond to new comments regarding Everline by Canadian news-media.

The 18km “Everline” rapid transit system in Yongin (near Seoul), South Korea, which utilizes the same “SkyTrain technology” trains used here in Vancouver, has celebrated its two year anniversary this past week – and along with that, city residents and officials have also been celebrating its positive effect in transforming the city of Yongin.

A new report published in English by the Korea Herald reports that the Everline is transforming Yongin City – helping to foster business growth and attract high-tech industries, encourage more people to adopt transit-oriented lifestyles and reduce congestion. The Everline is now meeting the ridership projection that was initially made in 2011.

Yongin, once regarded as a commuter town in Gyeonggi Province, is now developing into a business-centered metropolis equipped with a growth engine as it amasses infrastructure befitting a city of more than 1 million residents.

The development has been underway since Mayor Jung Chan-min took office nine months ago. The city is setting up several industrial complex centers including the Yongin Techno Valley currently under construction, and the once-dormant light rail ‘Everline’ is currently used by over 30,000 passengers daily.

[Yongin growing into business-centered city – The Korea Herald]

The Everline story: complicated beginnings

After years of wrangling between the line’s construction consortium and the City of Yongin, Everline finally opened for service in 2013. The line had been fully constructed and in a ready-to-open state since for years beforehand, but was previously unable to open in two instances (in 2011, then again in 2012).

According to a February 2011 interview with Joongang Daily, the City of Yongin refused to open the line for revenue service, citing numerous issues with both construction and ridership projections. The delay was seen negatively by the Yongin Rapid Transit Company (YRTC), the line’s operator, which sued Yongin City for delaying the opening of the line. In the outcome of this legal proceeding, YRTC was awarded nearly $500 million in damages through the International Court of Arbitration.

These issues, among others, gave the Everline a dismal reputation among city residents. At one point, a very vocal group of local residents, who had become extremely unhappy about the delays in opening, called for the Everline to be dismantled altogether.

Yongin Everline Train
Although the Everline service operates at an exceptional frequency, trains operate with a single car and that has created even more dissatisfaction among critics, who labelled Everline as a “bus on rails”. Photo from Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA Minseong Kim

Since then, Everline has been subjected to considerable scrutiny from both Korean and Canadian news media.

Canadian journalists, in particular, have been keen to dig into the details of the deal made between Yongin City and the Everline’s operating consortium, which includes Bombardier, the Canadian company that supplied Everline’s rolling stock and “SkyTrain technology”. There have been allegations of bribery on Bombardier’s part, with many believing that the City of Yongin was coerced into accepting a system that would never be able to meet its riderhsip projections.

Indeed, one of the things that pressured the City into refusing to open the line was the lack of confidence that it would meet ridership projections. The Mayor at the time stated that the City did not want to open the line, due to concerns of increased operating subsidy and a loss of revenue due to lower ridership.

The City had expected that Everline would attract only 10,000 daily riders – significantly lower than some earlier estimates, including one estimate offered by the Gyeonggi Research Institute, which suggested that Everline would attract 32,000 daily riders upon opening.

Ridership started out low, but something was missing

However, one element that would considerably determine the ridership outcome of Everline had yet to be fully arranged. According to The Korea Herald’s report, at the time of opening, there was no fare integration between the Everline and surrounding transit.

The obvious problem of the Everline is that it doesn’t allow free transfer from other public transport. So people, who took the Bundang-Line to Giheung, would rather transfer to a local bus instead of using the Everline. Usage of the Everline costs 1,100 KRW, which is in comparison to free transfer (or 100 to 200 KRW for long-distance transfer) too much. Yongin Everline has to be integrated into Seoul Metropolitan’s fare-system.

[No Passengers on the Yongin Everline – Kojects]

Everline riders continuing to Seoul on the Bundang Line subway were required to pay a separate fare on the Everline and then again when riding the subway. There was also no direct station-to-station connection or fare integration between the Everline’s terminus station in Giheung, and the nearby Giheung Station of the Bundang Line.

This fare integration and physical integration with the Bundang Line station had been anticipated during previous attempts to open Eveline in 2012, but was not provided by the time of Everline’s 2013 opening, presumably due to the legal challenges that Everline faced before it was able to open.

When both fare integration and a physical connection to the Bundang Line station were introduced in September 2014, ridership levels on the Everline increased triple-fold.

Everline, the major light rail line of Yongin, opened two years ago, but it had been long regarded as a public nuisance with fewer than 10,000 users per day. After implementing the Metropolitan Unity Fare system in September last year, the number of passengers drastically increased. After one month, over 20,000 passengers on average used the light rail daily, and the number reached an average of 30,000 passengers last month.

At 30,000 daily passengers, the daily ridership count on Everline is now triple the city’s initial projections, and nearly matches the projections set by the Gyeonggi Research Institute of 32,000 daily passengers; it will handily surpass those projections within this year.

Everline is now now almost half-way to reaching its “break-even” point when daily ridership hits 75000 (according to a Korean newspaper – [see here]). At 75,000 daily riders, fare revenues will 100% cover all operating costs, completely eliminating the operating expense for city taxpayers.

Map of the Yongin Everline
Map of the Yongin Everline

Everline as an asset to Yongin City

On top of the recent fare integration, new efforts – including the promo video at the top of this post – have been made to promote the viability of the line to residents of Yongin.

It’s taken some time, but shuttle buses from the four main universities that are connected by the Everline, which previously connected to other transit centres, are now connecting to the Everline, helping the universities reduce their transport costs. Activity on the line is increasing and there are now buskers performing at many of the line’s busier stations, fostering a lively urban atmosphere.

New developments on the line aim to take advantage of the Everline’s convenience. One multiple high-rise proposal, at the Everline’s junction with the Bundang Subway Line at Giheung Station, is expected to contribute massively to Everline’s ridership (see report in Korean – [link])

The new Mayor of Yongin, who was elected to office in 2014, has supported the Everline and demonstrated its versatility by making the Everline a part of his own commute to City Hall, and has organized a citizens committee to make the best of the line now that it has been built. He has also used the Everline’s example to push for further rail investment in Yongin City – which may include further extensions of the Everline itself.

The Everline also has considerable capacity to expand. Currently, Everline trains consist of a single car, which is the same length as our Mark II cars but as wide as our Canada Line vehicles at 3.2m wide. The trains have been termed by some media and riders as “cute”, but derided by critics as being “more like buses”. However, all stations are ready to accomodate longer 2-car trains.

As well, trains run every 4 minutes during weekday peak periods, and no less frequently than every 6 minutes except during early mornings and late nights on weekdays and weekends. This is a far higher quality of service than many grade-level, driver-operated Light Rail systems.

Although the Everline operates an exceptional frequency, the fact that trains operate a single car has created additional dissatisfaction among critics.

Significance to Vancouver

As I previously mentioned, Everline has frequently been subjected to scrutiny by Canadian news-media. Critics of SkyTrain expansion in our region were the first to jump on the Everline story, framing its issues as reasons that we should avoid expanding our SkyTrain system, since identical ‘SkyTrain technology’ from Bombardier is used on Everline.

Something I find incredibly ironic that it is the same kind of interference from municipal politicians – which resulted in the Everline’s shortfall as a Yongin City asset – that has been desired by critics referencing that shortfall as a way of stopping SkyTrain expansion.

It should be clear that none of the problems with the Everline were the result of ‘SkyTrain technology’, or Bombardier. In his interview with Joongang Daily, the previous Mayor cited two reasons why the City was refusing to open the project: issues with ridership (which we now know to have been due to lack of fare integration), and issues with construction resulting in “noise and safety concerns”.

These apparent construction issues were related to the elevated guideway structure and so a result of the construction contractor, not Bombardier or anything regarding ‘SkyTrain technology’.

The Everline has proved to be a successful transit system – and every day it carries more passengers and transforms life for more and more citizens in Yongin, it is turning around its dismal beginning of being a “failure” or a “white elephant” and becoming a true rapid transit icon in Korea.

Lessons from the Everline example

The Everline Story has two main lessons for all of us here in Metro Vancouver:

Firstly, any “P3” transit projects must be carefully planned and considered. The Yongin Everline is essentially akin to a “what if the Canada Line P3 failed” scenario, with ridership not meeting projections – except the disaster was also kind of pre-empted as a result of fear of failure from the City’s politicians, the resulting delays in opening, and the lack of fare integration.

The Canada Line did not fail because it was built on a well-demonstrated transit corridor (the previous 98 B-Line rapid bus was demand proof) and kept a promise to riders by mandating travel time improvements – the designer was actually required to orient its proposal around a set travel time value, and the Canada Line’s reliability in meeting that travel time was subsequently found to be the line’s #1 most-liked aspect in rider surveys.

The City of Surrey should particularly be paying attention because it wants to use a P3 model on its proposed grade-level Light Rail system, which is more vulnerable to ridership not meeting projections than a grade-separated SkyTrain extension.

Secondly, and more importantly, never undermine the value of integrating transit fare systems.

Major metro areas in North America like the San Francisco Bay Area are facing serious challenges dealing with multiple transit agencies, including major ridership losses due to the lack of integrated fares.

We don’t have this problem in Metro Vancouver because of our system of having a single transit operator throughout history. As a result, TransLink is one of North America’s most efficient transit systems.

22, KPU Geography, J-POP enthusiast. Founding director of SkyTrain for Surrey.

‘Everline’ SkyTrain transit system transforms Yongin City, Korea