The China Post staff
The Taiwan High Speed Railway Corp. (THSRC) ran in the red during its first two operating months, raking in revenue of NT$600 million in January and NT$670 million in February, all far below a monthly expense of over NT$1 billion, according to tallies released by the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC).
Transportation and Communications Minister Tsai Duei said that the poor revenue performance of the THSRC indicated that there exists much room for the company to improve its operations.
Tsai said that the THSRC will increase the number of its daily trains to 25 from the current 19 by the end of March, so as to boost the convenience of the bullet train service for passengers.
Tsai made the remarks in reply to interpellations from lawmakers at the transportation committee of the Legislative Yuan.
During the session, some lawmakers lashed out at the THSRC for what they said was a poor ticketing system, relatively low passenger loading capacity, and unreasonably high prices of commodities sold on the trains, all leading to poor revenue. Lawmaker Tseng Tsan-teng of the opposition Taiwan Solidarity Union, for instance, said there are no reference prices for commodities sold in the trains and the products are sold at much higher prices than outside the trains.
Lawmaker Hsieh Ming-yuan of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party said that once he took a business-class bullet train, finding that there were only two passengers, including himself, on the train.
“With such a low passenger capacity, how can the THSRC earn money? “ Hsieh asked.
In addition, Lawmaker Lee Hung-chun of the opposition People First Party, said that based on the THSRC’s total outstanding debts of NT$400 billion, the company has to score revenue of at least NT$13 billion to break even. But if the current sluggish revenue performance lingers, then the company will have to run in the red forever, according to Lee. In response, Minister Tsai said that besides gradually increasing the number of trains, the MOTC is studying the feasibility of ticket integration, allowing passengers to take a train of the Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA) from Keelung in the north and then transfer to the THSRC train to Tsoying in the south by using only one ticket.
If the integration can be smoothly completed, then the convenience of HSRC service will be sharply boosted, thus more patronage from passengers, according to Tsai. On the same occasion, J.H. Pang, director general of the Bureau of High Speed Rail, said his ministry is scheduled to complete the ticket integration task by the end of 2008. Pang continued that the THSRC will increase the daily number of trains to 61 from 19 within half a year. Meanwhile, Ou Chin-der, chief executive officer of the THSRC, said that the company will launch a phone-call voice ticketing system starting March 20, and that passengers should reach the HSR stations 30 minutes before the departure of the scheduled trains.