Saturday, December 16, 2017

Taiwan Rail Suffers Huge Drop in Ridership

Ridership on the TRA dropped 8% in 2016 compared to 2015. This is massive and, given that most of that ridership probably went to driving and buses, a bad sign for Taiwan's air quality, traffic congestion, and safety, to say nothing of global warming. Most of the drop occurred on express trains.
It is difficult to say why this happened. The Legislative Yuan report cited by the Taipei Times attributes it to inefficiency making the TRA uncompetitive, citing in particular staff shortages. I haven't noticed any deterioration in service over the past couple of years so I am suspicious of this reasoning. Moreover, competitiveness is a two-sided coin- if the central government invests in making driving more competitive but ignores the TRA, people will start driving. I can't help but suspect that continued freeway expansion is the main culprit.
This is yet more evidence that TRA is the most neglected part of Taiwan's rail system. This is a mistake, as the TRA is the best option for efficient regional rail (e.g. Taipei-Keelung, Taichung-Changhua, Kaohsiung-Pingdong, etc.), and can provide good service to towns that otherwise aren't large enough to justify a metro line.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Kaohsiung's Free Transit

Kaohsiung recently rescinded fares on its transit system for a limited time in order to combat air pollution. In the first day of the program ridership increased 10%- not a small increase compared to total ridership, but minuscule when considering how underused mass transit was in Kaohsiung to begin with.
This policy reflects the central problem with Taiwan's transportation planning: it tries to solve problems caused by too much driving without doing anything to discourage driving. While 10% more ridership is not bad in purely comparative terms, it barely amounts to several percents of Kaohsiung's drivers. Cost simply isn't the main reason Kaohsiungers don't take transit; speed and comfort (specifically distance from stations, speed of buses, quality of sidewalks, etc.) are also important. Many of these improvements can't be accomplished without inconveniencing drivers- but it is clear that is unthinkable to Taiwan's politicians. Taiwan will be unable to resolve its energy, environmental, land management, and safety issues until politicians- and people- change this attitude.
Relevant article:

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Airport Rail Is a Bad Idea

The Taoyuan Airport Line isn't getting great ridership: 130,000/day or so, less than the Wen-Hu Line. Perhaps that's due to terrible transfers. More telling is that only 20% of the riders are taking it to the airport. In other words, people find it more useful to go to places other than the airport. Seen another way only 25% of the people using the airport take the train there.
It is extremely difficult for rail to airports to work. Airports simply aren't massive destinations compared to downtown business or commercial districts- just think how often you go to your job or even go somewhere central for shopping or entertainment, versus how often you go to the airport. Building a rail line around getting to the airport was a mistake on Taiwan's part, as it does little to decrease car usage and therefore does little to help the environment, and isn't useful for most people or financially self-supporting to boot.
Relevant article:

Friday, March 25, 2016

Demolishing Pedestrian Bridges

Taipei is considering demolishing the pedestrian bridge at Xinyi and Keelung Rds., part of an effort to remove bridges and tunnels that are rarely used.
As long as this is accompanied by street-level crossings, this is another good step for Taipei. These bridges and tunnels' only purpose is the convenience of drivers, who don't have to wait for pedestrians to cross the street. But for pedestrians, especially those who are disabled, old, or carrying anything heavy, they are a nuisance and lengthen the amount of time it takes to cross a street. They are also block sidewalks and sunlight and are ugly to boot.
So far Ko has been pretty good for pedestrians- let's hope he doesn't get himself driven out of office.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Taoyuan's Guishan Line Passes Feasibility Review

The Taoyuan MRT's Guishan Line (Brown Line) has taken another step to completion, gaining approval from the Ministry of Transportation. By now it has been confirmed that the entire line will be elevated, and since a portion of the route it will follow is somewhat narrow it will be a monorail. Some residents living on the route hoped for an underground line but that was rejected because then the line would be unable to recoup 25% of its cost, as required.
Linking Huilong MRT station and Taoyuan Train Station, the line will cost NT$17.2 billion (US$530 million, for US$46 million/km).

Monday, March 21, 2016

Hualien-Taitung Freeway Unlikely

The Directorate-General of Highways has announced the results of a study into building a freeway between Hualien and Taitung. Launched because of worries that the new Su-ao-Hualien highway will bring more cars into the east than the region's roads can handle, the study found that the current road system should in fact be adequate. It also found that the freeway would cost NT90 billion (US$2.8 billion, roughly US$17 million/km at 160km long) and take six years to complete.
Although the freeway likely won't be built, this is a good example of how driving infrastructure begets more driving infrastructure, with new freeways drawing in more drivers, who clog other connecting roads and drive calls for even more freeways. In this specific case, although Taiwan's east isn't especially dense, it's still very well suited to mass transit, with the vast majority of the population living within a few kilometers from the rail line (well, except in Taitung City...). Perhaps the best thing the government could do for mobility in the east at this point is rebuild the branch to Taitung, which after all is the most popular destination between Hualien City and Pingtung.

Friday, March 18, 2016

A New Xinyi-Neihu Line

With Neihu facing a transportation crisis Taipei is looking for solutions. This situation isn't very surprising; Neihu's population has been growing faster than that of any other district in Taipei, and its single, medium-capacity MRT line was crowded upon opening and has only become more crowded since.
Several cheaper solutions have been floated, including HOV lanes, bus lanes and wider bridges (though for some reason not more cars on Neihu Line trains, which I thought was in the works already). The first two of these make sense, because they encourage more efficient use of space and energy. The most interesting suggestion however is a new MRT line linking Neihu to Xinyi. Such a line is already in Taipei's long-term plan but the alignment is bad: it makes a big semioval from Jiannan Rd. east into central Neihu then west to Minsheng Community, lengthening trip times; it crosses paths with the Songshan and Xinyi Lines but doesn't have transfers to them (not to mention to the TRA); and it doesn't actually pass through any major economic centers, forcing passengers to transfer to get where they're likely to go.
Luckily Taipei is planning an entirely new line. According to one report, this line would start at Xiangshan (hopefully as a branch of the Xinyi Line for better integration into the system), have transfers to the Bannan Line at Yongchun and the Songshan Line at Songshan, and then proceed to Neihu Science Park. This routing would both provide better connections to the rest of the MRT system and the TRA and appears to offer a more direct route. Assuming it is a branch of the Xinyi Line it would also provide direct access to at least one major economic center, the Taipei 101 area.
A route down Keelung Rd. would be even more ideal, as that could link directly to City Hall as well as 101 and Songshan, and could then be extended to Liuzhangli and Gongguan, also an important commercial area, and then into the underserved eastern section of Yonghe and Zhonghe. However, this current proposal would still be a very useful addition to Taipei's transit network.