| BY PAT GAOArtwork creates a cheerful atmosphere inside light rail carriages. (Photo by Pang Chia-shan)A- A+
MRT and LRT systems are being expanded across the country as part of government efforts to boost sustainable urban development.
Last November New Taipei City took a major step toward increasing access to one of its many popular but remote tourist areas with the opening of three new stations on its Danhai Light Rail Transit (LRT) line. Reaching Fisherman’s Wharf near the mouth of Tamsui River in northern Taiwan is easier than ever before, and day-trippers can look forward to further additions to come.
Tourists are not the only ones benefitting from extensions to public transportation networks. When the LRT line initially commenced operation in December 2018 with 7.3 kilometers of track serving 11 stations in Tamsui District, an influx of nearly 40,000 people moved into the area’s emerging Danhai New Town neighborhood. Five more stops along the waterway are in the works to connect the LRT to Tamsui Station of Taipei City’s Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system, an upgrade set to greatly enhance convenience for commuters. Following completion of the Danjiang Bridge spanning Tamsui River, New Taipei’s Bali District will join the growing list of places reachable by light rail.
Danhai Light Rail Transit line in New Taipei City’s Tamsui District continues to expand since commencing operation in December 2018. (Photo by Pang Chia-shan)
The Danhai line is the latest green transport project under New Taipei’s carbon reduction policy. The initiative is led by an interagency task force established in 2016, making it the first such municipal group to adopt targets in line with the central government’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction and Management Act, which aims to lower national carbon emissions to 50 percent of 2005 levels by 2050.
“Decreasing the use of private vehicles is a major component of green transportation plans,” said New Taipei Metro Corp.’s former Chairman Chen Jian-yu (陳建宇), who served as head of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications from 2015 to 2016 before accepting an invitation from the city government to take up the position. “Relevant initiatives also cover renewable energy efforts like the installation of solar power panels at the Danhai line’s main maintenance center,” he added.
Taipei City’s Mass Rapid Transit system serves an average of 2 million riders per day. (Photo by Pang Chia-shan)
Like Chen, policymakers across the country are envisioning a future in which urban development strategies center around extensive MRT and light rail systems. Such models accelerate economic growth and enhance the cityscape while reducing car accidents and traffic congestion. As a result of the intense focus on public transport, Taipei, New Taipei and Taoyuan Cities in northern Taiwan, as well as Kaohsiung City in the south all boast world-class metro systems. The central metropolis of Taichung is soon to follow suit, with its first line scheduled to open 16.7 km of track this year, and a system in southern Taiwan’s Tainan City is currently in the planning phase.
New Taipei is leading the pack when it comes to continued work on its MRT and LRT systems. In accordance with a 10-year road map proposed in April 2019 when the city’s population hit more than 4 million, three major metro routes and several new light rail lines are in various stages of development. The network, which will be linked with the railway, is set to become the backbone of a region encompassing Taipei, New Taipei, Taoyuan and neighboring Keelung City, as well as northeastern Taiwan’s Yilan County, serving a population of 10 million in total. “There will ultimately be an average of 3.6 stations per 100,000 people,” Chen said. “The upgrades will usher in a new era of public transportation for northern Taiwan.”
A maintenance center near Danhai line’s Kanding Station ensures the system stays in tip-top shape. (Photo by Pang Chia-shan)
A key component of the transport scheme is the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport MRT Line that opened in 2017 and terminates at Taipei Main Station, a major hub connecting Taipei MRT, Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR) and Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) routes. Today, the 51.3-km metro line is the country’s longest, with 21 stops including THSR’s Taoyuan Station. Two future stops will extend the line to Zhongli TRA Station in Taoyuan’s eponymous district.
The next step in boosting public transport connectivity is an underground TRA project intended to replace the one currently running at ground level to Taoyuan Station. “The expanded MRT, THSR and TRA systems must be well integrated, allowing their combined services to better meet the needs of commuters and tourists,” said Li Hsien-ming (李憲明), deputy mayor of Taoyuan and a leading board member of Taoyuan Metro Corp., which is jointly funded and administered by Taoyuan, Taipei and New Taipei City governments.
Construction on Taoyuan City’s new metro line in northern Taiwan is still ongoing. (Photo courtesy of Taoyuan Metro Corp.)
According to the corporation, ridership on the airport line has grown steadily since launch, as evidenced by the average number of riders rising 20.45 percent year on year to 76,600 per day in 2019. Another MRT route linking the line to the downtown area is slated to open in 2026. “I welcome the rapid expansion of this efficient, low-carbon mode of transportation,” Li said. “It’s a major step toward reaching environmental goals, a cause dear to the hearts of people across the country.”
Following a similar trajectory to New Taipei, Kaohsiung completed its most recent public transport expansion Jan. 12 with the addition of nine stations to its light rail line. Speaking at the opening ceremony, Mayor Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) vowed to spare no effort in cultivating an extensive public transportation network. “The new light rail section is a major stride toward a truly livable city,” he said. “We must continue full steam ahead.”
Kaohsiung’s light rail is set to completely encircle the southern port city’s downtown area once construction is complete. (Photo by Pang Chia-shan)
Urban planners share the mayor’s enthusiasm, as can be seen in targets to double the length of the LRT by 2023. When complete, the light rail will completely encircle Kaohsiung’s downtown area, supplementing the two intersecting MRT lines launched in 2008. Another metro route currently under review by the central government is expected to start construction by the end of 2022. According to Wu Yei-long (吳義隆), head of Kaohsiung City Government’s MRT Bureau, the third line should substantially increase ridership as it will greatly enhance the system’s accessibility. He anticipates it will mirror the impact of Taipei’s Bannan Line, which quadrupled passenger count to around 730,000 per day after it opened in 2000. According to the bureau, by 2031 the combined MRT and LRT network’s estimated ridership is expected to rise to an average of 660,000 riders per day from its current 180,000.
Another major goal of public transport authorities is to link suburban areas to the MRT, a step critical to the metropolis’s continued economic development. To this end, a northern extension is being built to serve Gangshan District, home to Benzhou Industrial Park, and Luzhu District, the location of Kaohsiung Science Park, as well as Hunei District, from which a future line has been proposed to connect neighboring Tainan’s Southern Taiwan Science Park. “The goal is to encourage integrated regional development by shaping an intercity tech corridor,” Wu said, adding that an additional route to southern Taiwan’s Pingtung County is also under consideration.
Kaohsiung MRT’s Formosa Boulevard Station boasts one of the world’s largest public art installations, a stained glass piece symbolizing the four stages of human existence. (Photo by Pang Chia-shan)
Though it requires a significant amount of time and resources to extend lines so far from city centers, officials know that a well-designed metro system brings a degree of speed and convenience unmatched by other public transportation options. “A metropolitan area cannot meet the people’s basic needs without adequate transportation infrastructure,” New Taipei’s Chen said. “Many residents prefer to take the MRT since buses don’t run as frequently and are subject to traffic.” Planners also seek the substantial level of commercial activity that springs up around lines and enhances surrounding neighborhoods. For farsighted administrators like Chen, Li and Wu, expanding metro networks is the optimal way to maximize a city’s developmental potential while creating an accessible and sustainable urban environment for all inhabitants.
Write to Pat Gao at firstname.lastname@example.org