Friday, September 28, 2012

Starting new reading culture inside taxis

Taxi drivers of Samkwang Transport pose for a picture at the company’s office on Sept. 20 in Songpa, southern Seoul, to celebrate the start of a book reading service through the Educational Broadcasting System (EBS) radio channel. The service, jointly organized by EBS, Soongsil University and the Songpa District Office aims to promote reading. / Yonhap

Think about how you usually spend your time in a moving vehicle, taking you from one place to another.

The most common sight on public forms of transportation these days is people staring into their smart phones, whether they are checking Facebook, playing games or texting.

This fall, a handful of taxis in Seoul are offering a more productive experience for passengers.

In a joint project with the Educational Broadcasting System (EBS), Soongsil University and the Songpa district office, taxis of Samkwang Transport will provide an experience similar to listening to an audio book during rides, to provide citizens the opportunity to move a step closer to books and encourage reading,

In these taxis, passengers will be able to hear various works of literature and bestselling books being read to them on the EBS radio channel (FM 104.5).

The channel has programs reading different genres all day, so regardless of the time of day, passengers will be able to enjoy book readings. QR code stickers ensure that they can continue to listen to the program after they get off.

Kim June-bum, head of radio programming at EBS, said in a press conference held Aug. 20 at the Seoul Finance Center that the project aims to have taxi drivers and passengers listen to book readings on the radio and converse about the book.

Kim cited examples of other countries where various movements were initiated to encourage reading and have it become part of people’s daily lives.

“In the U.K., there is Bookstart, a 20-year-old reading program that gives free books to babies and toddlers. The One City One Book is a movement in cities across the U.S. which attempts to have communities read and discuss the same book. Japan has a program that encourages people to start their days with 15 minutes of reading,” said Kim.

“We don’t want this project to end as a short-term campaign; we’re hoping to start a new culture of reading books through it,” he said.

Although the project is starting off with 50 taxis from Samkwang, Kim spoke of the prospect of expanding the project so that not only more taxis, but also buses and subways can start promoting reading.

Challenges ahead

Park Joon-shik, a 58-year-old driver who has been with Samkwang Transport for about three-and-a-half years, shared his thoughts about the project during a ride on Aug. 20, the first day of the project launch.

“To be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve read books. Since I spend most of my time on the road, and how much we earn depends on how long we’re out driving, it’s hard for me to find the time to read,” he said.

So Park expressed his concerns about talking with passengers about books. “I don’t think I know enough to be capable of doing so,” he said with a laugh.

In an attempt to address this difficulty that drivers may face, Soongsil University, one of the organizers of the project, is hosting monthly lectures to encourage the drivers to become active agents of the program.

But Park raised other concerns as well.

“There are all sorts of passengers ― some tell me to turn down the radio volume or even turn it off. So I’m not really sure if passengers will welcome the project,” he added.

“But I do believe this is a positive movement, and I hope to be able to benefit from it,” said Park.

Another critical shortcoming is the low visibility of these taxis, which look no different from regular taxis, apart from a small logo on the left front door and inside, at the back of the passenger seat. It seems likely that citizens who have no idea about the project may get off at their destinations, oblivious of what was airing on the radio.

And considering there are only 50 of them out of some 70,000 in the city, raising awareness through active promotion seems to remain an important task.

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