Saturday, May 7, 2011

Who Should Build Taiwan's Subways?

Some politicians in Taichung and Xinbei are upset that construction of MRTs in those cities is managed by Taipei's Department of Rapid Transit Systems. Taichung's government has so little involvement with rapid transit construction that Jason Hu didn't even know the completion date had been pushed back two years (to 2017), or that its cost rose over 10 billion NT dollars. Yu Tian, a national legislator from Xinbei (I think DPP), also complained that Taipei's MRT is too "Taipei-centric". "It only takes 20 minutes to take a taxi from Banqiao to Sanchong, but to do the same trip by MRT you have to change lines twice", to paraphrase his complaint. They feel rapid transit construction should be handed over to the central government, possibly the TRA.
There's a good case to be made for central control, given that Taipei's MRT already crosses county borders and Taichung's and Kaohsiung's may do the same in the future. The fact that Hu didn't know even basic information about Taichung's MRT also suggests reform is needed, though I don't see how central control would necessarily increase local involvement. Yu's complaints however ring hollow: of course Taipei is the center of the MRT network, because that's the economic center of the region. Even if it wasn't, it lies at the center of the Taipei Basin, surrounded on all sides by Xinbei, so the shortest paths between many parts of Xinbei (e.g., Xindian and
Luzhou, Xizhi and anywhere else) lie through central Taipei. It is hard to believe that there's as much demand for a rapid transit line between each of Xinbei's districts- and by the way, Taipei is constructing one anyway. That's not to say that they shouldn't build, just that it makes sense that it has been a lower priority than lines connecting Xinbei to central Taipei and Xinyi.
To be fair it is true that Taipei gets an unfair portion of Taiwan's resources. A better way to resolve this problem though would be to integrate Taipei and Xinbei, instead of perpetuating a political division that obscures the two cities' interdependence.


Jenna said...

Interesting post! As someone who often does have to go from, say, Banqiao to Luzhou (more likely it's Tucheng to Zhonghe, actually - and yes, I do in fact have to do that on occasion) I do see a point in building a line out there. That said, Brendan has worked for the MRT company and his students have said that with the exception of the Nanshijiao line, none of the Xinbei lines are all that profitable or busy - generally the cash is made from riders in Taipei. I can confirm this - when I go out to Tucheng, the train is packed until Longshan Temple and clears out at or before Jiangzicui and is never crowded on the way back until it's back in Taipei city.

What I'd love is to be able to get to the Muzha line without two transfers. I live close to Muzha but it's hard to get there from Jingmei on current public transit - the easiest option if you're not taking a bus is to take a taxi to Wanfang Hospital - it makes no sense to take the MRT the whole way!

David said...

There are good reasons for building the orbital line through what was formerly Taipei County. The arc from Sanchong through Banqiao and Zhonghe/Yonghe to Xindian actually contains a large part of the population of Greater Taipei.

J said...

@David, It's not that I think there's no demand for the first phase of the orbital line, just less demand than for any of the lines connecting Xinbei to Taipei. It should be built, but after the other lines. Just because the orbital line hasn't been prioritized doesn't mean the MRT planners aren't working in the best interests of Xinbei. If Yu Tian wants to argue that he'll have to show that more people want to go between Xinbei's districts than from Xinbei to Taipei. That could be the case, but it's counterintuitive and anyone making it needs to present data.
@Jenna, Yeah, the Muzha line really doesn't fit in well with the rest of the MRT. I've read somewhere (can't remember where!) that some people thought its alignment was chosen because of shady real estate deals- why else does it go through the less-populated parts of Muzha, and skip NCCU, which is probably one of Mucha's major destinations? In my fantasy MRT the Muzha Line would go from NCCU to Jingmei, have cross-platform transfers to the Xindian Line at Jingmei and Wanlong, and then go north along Fuxing or Dunhua. That would make getting from the green line to anywhere in east Taipei or from Muzha to anywhere in west Taipei far more convenient. Maybe they can do that when they rebuild the Wen-Hu line for greater capacity (which I think they should do after the last phase of expansion is completed).