City bus strike derails SNU students' mornings

The students and faculty at Seoul National University were left stranded Thursday amid an all-out strike by city bus drivers, which left 97 percent of Seoul’s public buses halted for 11 hours.

The Seoul Bus Labor Union had initially requested that bus companies in Seoul raise hourly wages by 12.7 percent, citing low wages as the reason behind the exodus of bus drivers.

However, the Seoul Bus Transportation Business Association, which represents the management, maintained its plan for a 2.5 percent wage-hike, calling the union’s demand “excessive.”

In light of such differences, 88 percent of union members voted in favor of a plan to launch a city-wide strike, during a union meeting held on 19 March. The strike began at 4 a.m. on Thursday.

Many Seoul citizens suffered from the strike during morning rush hour. The students and faculty at SNU were no exception, as city buses are one of the only ways to reach SNU’s Gwanak Campus. Students studying in building 301 and 302 experienced the most inconvenience, as their only option of getting to class was to take the city bus.

Some students who were unaware of the strike experienced panic when they found themselves stranded.

“I urgently hailed a taxi from Seoul National Univ. subway station after learning about the strike ten minutes before class,” said a senior surnamed Lee.

Meanwhile, town buses and shuttle buses were more crowded than usual.

"I usually use the shuttle bus or a city bus (to get to school). But today, I took Gwanak 02, a town bus, because I was informed about the strike. My friends who had to take the shuttle bus this morning couldn’t get on the bus for more than 20 minutes because they were full of people," said Kim Ji-won, a student studying at the Department of Business.

"If the strike continues, I am going to take the school shuttle bus or walk to the university. I might also carpool in a taxi,” said Kim, describing the ways she was going to adapt in case the strike was prolonged.

Meanwhile, the Seoul City government also devised measures to alleviate inconveniences. Seoul Subway operated its trains at shorter intervals and extended the last train time by about one hour. Moreover, there were also 250 free shuttle buses provided by district governments for the citizens.

In Gwanak-gu, the district where SNU is located, public shuttle buses from Daehak-dong and Bongcheon-dong ran to SNU on a 20-minute schedule.

Lasting 11 hours, the strike ended at 3:20 p.m., when the union and management agreed on a plan to increase hourly-wages by 4.8 percent, while guaranteeing an extra 650,000 won ($480.71) in holiday allowances, according to Seoul City which mediated the agreement.

“It may have been inconvenient if the strike was prolonged, but I am glad that it ended,” said another student Park Joo-min, expressing relief that the union and management had reached an agreement.

This is the first bus strike in Seoul since 2012.