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What to know about new emission rules in Seoul

A sign marking the Green Transport Zone is set up outside the old city wall area in downtown Seoul. Starting Dec. 1, old diesel and gasoline cars are banned in the zone in an effort by the city government to improve air quality. Courtesy of Seoul Metropolitan Government
A sign marking the Green Transport Zone is set up outside the old city wall area in downtown Seoul. Starting Dec. 1, old diesel and gasoline cars are banned in the zone in an effort by the city government to improve air quality. Courtesy of Seoul Metropolitan Government

By Lee Suh-yoon

Starting Dec. 1, Seoul Metropolitan Government banned old diesel and gasoline cars from what is known as the Green Transport Zone in the city center.

The ban is permanent. Anyone caught driving grade 5 vehicles inside this historic area will be fined 250,000 won ($212).

The policy is part of the city government's response to worsening air pollution in winter months. The city plans to create two more such zones in Yeouido and Gangnam by 2021.

The clampdown on high-emission vehicles is based on emissions data. According to a 2016 report by the Seoul Institute, a city-funded think tank, car emissions account for 25 percent of fine dust generated in Seoul. More than half of these emissions are produced by emission grade 5 vehicles, which make up just 10 percent of the country's 23 million vehicles.

"Despite the policy's inconvenience to owners of grade 5 cars, the new vehicle restrictions inside the Green Transport Zone will reduce fine dust emissions and reclaim the neighborhoods inside the old fortress walls from cars and return them to the people," Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said in a statement.

Here is what you need to know about the new regulations (if you own a grade 5 vehicle).

A surveillance camera is installed near Sungnyemun, one of the gateways to the Green Transport Zone in central Seoul, Sunday. / Courtesy of Seoul Metropolitan Government
A surveillance camera is installed near Sungnyemun, one of the gateways to the Green Transport Zone in central Seoul, Sunday. / Courtesy of Seoul Metropolitan Government

Exactly what part of town is the Green Transport Zone?

The Green Transport Zone is a 16.7 square kilometer area enclosed by the old city walls. By current administrative markings, the zone is located in parts of Jongno-gu and Jung-gu. The area is considered the city's historic center and includes well-known neighborhoods like Myeong-dong, Hyehwa-dong, Gwanghwamun and Bukchon.

Forty-five gateways in and out of this zone are now fitted with surveillance cameras to enforce the ban.

Is the ban on grade 5 vehicles ever extended to areas outside Green Transport Zone?

The ban is extended to the entire city on days of "emergency reduction measures" that are issued when PM 2.5 levels surpass 50 micrograms per cubic meter. PM 2.5 are particles small enough to penetrate a person's lungs and bloodstream.

Between January and March this year, the measures were issued on 12 days. The highest recorded PM 2.5 level last winter was 135 micrograms per cubic meter.

Additionally, legislation that would make it possible to block high-emission vehicles from the city for an entire season (between December and March) is pending at the National Assembly.

How can I check my car's emission grade?

You can easily look it up on the environment ministry's website (emssiongrade.mecar.or.kr) using your car's license plate number.

Does the ban apply at night?

The ban on grade 5 vehicles inside the Green Transport Zone is from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. The hours are the same for the citywide ban on the days of emergency reduction measures.

An employee at Seoul City's Transport Operation & Information Service shows a phone message sent to a driver for bringing an emission grade 5 vehicle into the Green Transport Zone, Sunday, notifying the driver of a 250,000 won fine. / Yonhap
An employee at Seoul City's Transport Operation & Information Service shows a phone message sent to a driver for bringing an emission grade 5 vehicle into the Green Transport Zone, Sunday, notifying the driver of a 250,000 won fine. / Yonhap

What can I do with my grade 5 vehicle?

If your grade 5 vehicle is registered in Seoul, you can get a city subsidy ― around 90 percent of the total cost ― to attach a particulate exhaust filter to the engine. This will push up the vehicle's emission grade and allow free travel throughout the city. The City Hall hotline for emission subsidies is 02-2133-4410. If lacking the Korean communication skills for a phone conversation, you can directly visit the emission control department at the city government's Seosomun building.

Another option is to scrap the high-emission vehicle and get a new car. Starting February, those who ditch their grade 5 vehicles can claim a small "early scrap" subsidy to fund their next ride.

What if my car cannot be fitted with an engine filter?

Some car models cannot be fitted with a particulate exhaust filter due to design factors. Such cases, once reported to the city authorities, will be given a one-year exemption from the ban. After December 2020, however, these vehicles will also not be allowed to be driven inside the Green Transport Zone.

What alternative transport options will be made available inside the Green Transport Zone?

To make up for the ban on high-emission private cars, the city will drastically increase its public bike and car rental services inside the Green Transport Zone. Four new public bus routes will be created inside the zone, and operate at half the price of normal public buses.


A sign marking the Green Transport Zone is set up outside the old city wall area in downtown Seoul. Starting Dec. 1, old diesel and gasoline cars are banned in the zone in an effort by the city government to improve air quality. Courtesy of Seoul Metropolitan Government
A sign marking the Green Transport Zone is set up outside the old city wall area in downtown Seoul. Starting Dec. 1, old diesel and gasoline cars are banned in the zone in an effort by the city government to improve air quality. Courtesy of Seoul Metropolitan Government

By Lee Suh-yoon

Starting Dec. 1, Seoul Metropolitan Government banned old diesel and gasoline cars from what is known as the Green Transport Zone in the city center.

The ban is permanent. Anyone caught driving grade 5 vehicles inside this historic area will be fined 250,000 won ($212).

The policy is part of the city government's response to worsening air pollution in winter months. The city plans to create two more such zones in Yeouido and Gangnam by 2021.

The clampdown on high-emission vehicles is based on emissions data. According to a 2016 report by the Seoul Institute, a city-funded think tank, car emissions account for 25 percent of fine dust generated in Seoul. More than half of these emissions are produced by emission grade 5 vehicles, which make up just 10 percent of the country's 23 million vehicles.

"Despite the policy's inconvenience to owners of grade 5 cars, the new vehicle restrictions inside the Green Transport Zone will reduce fine dust emissions and reclaim the neighborhoods inside the old fortress walls from cars and return them to the people," Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said in a statement.

Here is what you need to know about the new regulations (if you own a grade 5 vehicle).

A surveillance camera is installed near Sungnyemun, one of the gateways to the Green Transport Zone in central Seoul, Sunday. / Courtesy of Seoul Metropolitan Government
A surveillance camera is installed near Sungnyemun, one of the gateways to the Green Transport Zone in central Seoul, Sunday. / Courtesy of Seoul Metropolitan Government

Exactly what part of town is the Green Transport Zone?

The Green Transport Zone is a 16.7 square kilometer area enclosed by the old city walls. By current administrative markings, the zone is located in parts of Jongno-gu and Jung-gu. The area is considered the city's historic center and includes well-known neighborhoods like Myeong-dong, Hyehwa-dong, Gwanghwamun and Bukchon.

Forty-five gateways in and out of this zone are now fitted with surveillance cameras to enforce the ban.

Is the ban on grade 5 vehicles ever extended to areas outside Green Transport Zone?

The ban is extended to the entire city on days of "emergency reduction measures" that are issued when PM 2.5 levels surpass 50 micrograms per cubic meter. PM 2.5 are particles small enough to penetrate a person's lungs and bloodstream.

Between January and March this year, the measures were issued on 12 days. The highest recorded PM 2.5 level last winter was 135 micrograms per cubic meter.

Additionally, legislation that would make it possible to block high-emission vehicles from the city for an entire season (between December and March) is pending at the National Assembly.

How can I check my car's emission grade?

You can easily look it up on the environment ministry's website (emssiongrade.mecar.or.kr) using your car's license plate number.

Does the ban apply at night?

The ban on grade 5 vehicles inside the Green Transport Zone is from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. The hours are the same for the citywide ban on the days of emergency reduction measures.

An employee at Seoul City's Transport Operation & Information Service shows a phone message sent to a driver for bringing an emission grade 5 vehicle into the Green Transport Zone, Sunday, notifying the driver of a 250,000 won fine. / Yonhap
An employee at Seoul City's Transport Operation & Information Service shows a phone message sent to a driver for bringing an emission grade 5 vehicle into the Green Transport Zone, Sunday, notifying the driver of a 250,000 won fine. / Yonhap

What can I do with my grade 5 vehicle?

If your grade 5 vehicle is registered in Seoul, you can get a city subsidy ― around 90 percent of the total cost ― to attach a particulate exhaust filter to the engine. This will push up the vehicle's emission grade and allow free travel throughout the city. The City Hall hotline for emission subsidies is 02-2133-4410. If lacking the Korean communication skills for a phone conversation, you can directly visit the emission control department at the city government's Seosomun building.

Another option is to scrap the high-emission vehicle and get a new car. Starting February, those who ditch their grade 5 vehicles can claim a small "early scrap" subsidy to fund their next ride.

What if my car cannot be fitted with an engine filter?

Some car models cannot be fitted with a particulate exhaust filter due to design factors. Such cases, once reported to the city authorities, will be given a one-year exemption from the ban. After December 2020, however, these vehicles will also not be allowed to be driven inside the Green Transport Zone.

What alternative transport options will be made available inside the Green Transport Zone?

To make up for the ban on high-emission private cars, the city will drastically increase its public bike and car rental services inside the Green Transport Zone. Four new public bus routes will be created inside the zone, and operate at half the price of normal public buses.


Lee Suh-yoon sylee@koreatimes.co.kr


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