Sustainable Cities™

Seoul’s Voluntary No Driving Days

Seoul, South Korea has incentivized citizens to drive less. Announced in 2003, Seoul’s ‘No Driving Day’ programme is modest, even unspectacular, but nonetheless effective! Seoul has reduced its annual vehicle emission rates by 10% and the advantages don’t just stop with less pollution.

Seoul Car Free title
Central City Seoul Photo: tumblrcaraz

How It Works

From 2003 - 2006 Seoul's Metropolitan Government collaberated with various NGOs and private enterprises to plan the 'No Driving Day'Programme.  The principle is based upon a voluntary scheme, using incentives to enroll commuters to drop their cars for a day and travel to work via public transportation or other means. The system functions when the car owner registers their vehicle to stay at home one day a week, between Monday and Friday, 7am - 10pm. An electronic sticker is issued to that car which can then be monitored by radio frequency identification systems (RFID) located around the city. If throughout the year, the car is not identified as travelling on its allocated no drive day, the owner will receive a number of incentives/rewards. The programme is commercialized through sponsorship, generating a solid business model for the upfront cost of infrastructure and maintenance.

3 Million Cars

Seoul's inner city population of 10.4 million inhabitants is part of a wider metropolitan area comprising of nearly 26 million people. As one of the highest populated metropolises in the world, the city strains under vast car ownership numbers. Approximately 3 million registered cars roam the streets of Seoul which have instigated the usual suspects of congestion, smog and noise pollution. Transportation relates to approximately 42% of the city's CO2 emissions and was therefore deemed an appropriate sector to stake action against by Soeul's Metropolitan Government in 2003.

Seoul traffic jam
Seoul's Busy Road Network Photo: Tekken90Flickr

A Reward for the Dedication

Car owners are rewarded for their dedication to reducing car use through a number of incentives. Participants can receive:

  • 5% reduction in car tax
  • 50% discount on selected tunnel tolls
  • 20-30% discount at selected public parking locations
  • Priority parking in areas close to home
  • Reduction in congestion tax
  • Discount at petrol stations
  • Discounted repair services
  • Free car wash
  • A decrease in monthly insurance payments by 8-9%
  • Social discounts; restaurants, bike rentals, bookstores etc

Simple Measures, Big Impacts

There are many primary advantages that have been witnessed in Seoul. With 3 of every 10 eligible cars signed up to the programme, totaling between 700,000 and 900,000 vehicles; traffic volume has decreased by 7%, operating speeds have increased by 13% and annual traffic related emissions are
down 10%. Secondary impacts are vast, it is estimated that collectively citizens save US$600 million in fuel costs annually. 'Soft' effects such as reduced noise and health impacts, better air quality and local living conditions have also been realised.

Other, more difficult to quantify effects include the indirect promotion of public transport and alternative modes of commuter transport. Health benefits related to a reduction in traffic induced stress can also be witnessed with the promotion of active commutes (walking and cycling), reducing individuals stress whilst indirectly encouraging interaction and mixing of citizens in public spaces.

Seoul RFID System
Example RFID System Photo:

A Model for All?

Seoul's relative and growing success in reducing congestion in the city can easily be transferred across city contexts. The technology has greatly improved and with limited startup costs, modest infrastructure
commitments and commercial sponsorship opportunities, many cities can look to the 'No Driving Day' Programme as a tool to help reduce the many negative effects of a congested city.

Future Developments

Seoul is expanding its network of RFID systems to incorporate a wider city area. In addition the scheme is also attracting Seoul's satellite cities which are beginning to incorporate the technology and such action has spurred the government to impose other traffic calming measures. Road closures in the
city center are starting to take effect; helping increase pedestrianisation and the use of public transportation modes. Many supporters see no reason why such programmes cannot be replicated in other global cities. The technology is readily available, relatively cheap and has few infrastructure commitments, and most importantly, it is citizen driven with little effect on an individual's daily convenience.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013 / By Christopher William Reeves

Last updated Tuesday, January 21, 2014