MRT must prove that route alterations are for the best

The China Post news staff

Many residents living in Yonghe and Zhonghe have reacted angrily to the Taipei MRT’s latest announcement of a route change that will alter their commuting habits. Is their anger justified? Commuters from the two urban areas in New Taipei City have been able to travel directly to Taipei Main Station by taking the Danshui-Nanshijiao Line for more than a decade. From there they can change to most of the other MRT lines. But Taipei has just confirmed that they will not be able to do so beginning from September, when a new stretch between the Guting and Zhongxiao-Xinsheng stations is completed. They will have to make a transfer at Guting before they can reach Taipei Main Station, as trains from Yonghe-Zhonghe will be rerouted to connect the Xinzhuang-Luzhou Line through the new stretch. The MRT company claims that the change is needed to relieve the heavy traffic at Taipei Main Station where almost all lines converge. The route change will actually halve the intervals for trains coming from Yonghe-Zhonghe and therefore will not add commuting time. It will also enable a fee reduction for passengers to eastern parts of Taipei because the distance will be shorter. But the explanation has not convinced the residents. And two ruling Kuomintang lawmakers from the two areas have already vowed to organize a massive protest by the residents against the change. One of the reasons for the objection is that Taipei has decided to make the changes without consulting the residents of the two areas. They also argue that Guting is a small station that may not be able to accommodate rush-hour transfers. The shortened intervals of trains from Yonghe and Zhonghe will probably be canceled out by the extra time needed to get on the trains. And they are worried that they may not even be able to get on the trains that will probably be already full when arriving at their transit stops.

Many elderly people from the areas have been able to travel directly to the National Taiwan University Hospital (NTUH) to see the doctors. But the change will create an additional hassle for them. These worries seem justifiable. Taipei’s failure to consult the local people smacks of snobbery. It is basically telling commuters to take it or leave it. The city should have tried to explain and convince them of the necessity to introduce the changes before announcing a decision. We wonder whether Taipei has conducted a telephone survey to gauge the proportion of people who may be in favor of the route change. And is the planning for the changes based on thorough studies of the impact? It is saying the intervals of Taipei-bound trains from Yonghe and Zhonghe will be halved, and that passengers will only have to walk 15 seconds across the platform at Guting to their transfers. But that is only a technical aspect of the issue. Has the MRT studied how many people will actually be transiting at Guting and Zhongxiao-Xinsheng and how full the trains will already be when arriving at the transit stops? It says extra trains will be dispatched during rush hours serving the Guting transfers, and the time spent waiting to get on the trains will be only one to three minutes. We will have to see whether the estimation is correct. Most people would probably agree that traffic at Taipei Main Station is way too heavy for it to handle and changing trains there is a hassle. But the MRT company must prove to commuters that the rerouting is the best possible solution and that it is well prepared for the changes.