Sunday, July 21, 2013

Why Taiwanese Don't Take Mass Transit

A couple months ago the Ministry of Transportation released the results of a survey on transit use.  The full report is available here.  There's lots of interesting data there, much of which I would like to comment on later, but first I want to start with the section about why Taiwanese don't take mass transit.  The results are summarized below (note that respondents could choose multiple answers):

Reason % in 2012 % change vs. 2009
Driving is more convenient 45.7% -8.1%
Origin/destination too far from a station 35.0% 5.6%
Unnecessary because destination is close 20.4% 3.2%
Arrival times inconvenient/ too few 12.0% 1.8%
Waiting/transferring takes too much time 9.9% n/a
Driving is faster 6.4% n/a
Too many transfers 4.8% 1.2%
Not used to mass transit 4.6% 1.9%
More expensive than alternatives 1.8% 0.1%
Walking/ cycling is healthier 1.1% -0.2%
Mass transit is too slow 1.0% n/a

I have a few problems with these categories- "inconvenient" is too vague a category to be really informative, for one- but there are still a few points I'd like to make.
First, most people appear willing to use transit if it suits their needs.  Not being in the "habit" of taking transit, often cited as a reason certain places have low transit mode share, was chosen by a mere 4.6% of the respondents.  All the other reasons cited are related to convenience and could potentially be mitigated.  This suggests there is a lot of potential for mode share expansion, and little opposition to transit per se as often seen in the United States.
Second, a surprisingly large percentage of the respondents feel they are too far from any transit station, including bus stops.  This suggests that expanding Taiwan's bus networks should be a high priority, to ensure coverage for most of the population.  Given Taiwan's density and geography this should be more practical than in most other countries.  Improving the pedestrian environment to make walking faster and distances from stations therefore feel shorter may also help.  Interestingly, the number of people who feel they are too far from a stop has gone up by 5% over the past four years, though I don't know if there has actually been a decrease in bus service, or if people who avoided transit for other reasons in previous years have been convinced to switch so that those who feel stations are too far make up a larger proportion of those who don't take transit.
In terms of service quality, low frequencies are a big problem, accounting for the fourth and fifth most common complaints.  I've personally found this to be true everywhere outside Greater Taipei, and often even in Taipei itself.  However, not too many people seem to feel that driving is actually faster than transit, which I find somewhat surprising.
I would have also been interested to know if people avoided transit because of crowding, cleanliness or the inconvenience of carrying luggage, but at least on a larger scale this survey shows Taiwan should focus primarily on service quality to attract more transit riders.

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