The last six days I was in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. Beforehand I heard a lot of good things about public transport in Taipei and so I was very excited to use subway, bus and other modes of transport. This article is going to summarize my experience and compare it with Seoul.
The following picture shows the most important historical figures for Taiwan Chiang Kai-shek and China Sun Yat-sen sitting in a train.
Taipei has roughly 2.5 million citizens and the population density is compared to Seoul half as high. The biggest difference to Seoul is that most of the citizens of Taipei have motor scooters. You see them everywhere. Taiwan lies more close to the equator, which means that the climate is warm throughout the year and it rains almost every day.
Public transport in Taipei is usually paid through a card-system called EasyCard which is very similar to Smart Card in Korea. You hold the EasyCard over the sensor, the entry opens and a display next to the sensor shows you how much money you have left on the card. The fare is going to be taken from your card when you arrive at your destination. It’s possible to go into minus with the EasyCard and it can be used for convenience stores, too. However, I wasn’t able to recharge it there. The standard fare was 25 Taiwanese Dollar, which is around 900 KRW and so slightly cheaper than transport in Korea. Depending on the distance, you pay less or more. Once I paid only 16 TWD for a ride of five stations.
I only took a train once, so for this transport method I can’t say much. Taiwan has a high speed-rail and a well-developed rail network. If I would’ve more time to travel around the whole island, I would prefer train. I took a train from Nankang Station to Kuleng, a port city close to Taipei. On this route, there have been a lot of stops. It felt a little bit like the Gyeongui-Line. The great thing for that train was that you could use the EasyCard as well.
As soon as I left the inner-city of Taipei, I relied on buses. Some of the buses have been more or less tourist-lines without any higher fares. On the way home from some famous tourist spots east of Taipei the bus driver played K-Pop for the whole time. This was very funny.
On my last day, I also took buses inside Taipei. My first impression was that the inner-city buses are driving billboards. Almost every vehicle has advertisement on the outside and it isn’t just on one designated place, it’s on the whole car. Unfortunately, I didn’t make any pictures of that.
Although Taipei isn’t very large, it has a BRT system. The facilities of the BRT seems installed less than a few months ago and there are still many constructions along the BRT lanes. I like that they have separated the lanes with constructions. Sometimes, I saw even trees used as separator!
On the same route of this BRT, they are building a new subway-line. That’s something I can’t understand but as I’m not an expert about the situation in Taipei, I’ll leave it by that.
On the left you can see that there’s a Seoul-like bus information system. One thing you don’t see are customers. Where are the public transport users? Is it too expensive for them? Too slow? I saw a lot of empty buses and there haven’t been a lot of people waiting for the bus as well.
There’s a tricky thing about paying for bus: Of course, you can use EasyCard in the bus but it depends on the line if you have to tap your card while boarding or exiting or even twice! I couldn’t figure it out in this week. From my experience, the buses who run on long distance outside of Taipei have to be tapped twice. The inner-city buses just needed the card if you exited the bus. There’s a sign which shows when you have to put your card, so if someone learns the Chinese symbols, it won’t be a big problem. Usually you get in the bus on the door in the middle and get out at the front.
From the point of a tourist, taking a bus isn’t easy. That’s the case almost everywhere in the world. The route tables at the stations are only in the national language and you can’t see in a map (except some countries in Google Maps) what route the bus takes. In Taipei it was also difficult but if you took the bus once, the names of the next station have been also displayed in English. Bus drivers and other passengers have been also always very helpful.
Let’s first take a look at the metro network:
This is the current situation in Taipei. In the next years, the network is going to be extended. The strange thing was that there are two “shuttle”-lines. In the north there’s this pink line which connects Betou and Xinbetou, a famous place for spas. I took this LRT and it was really only one station. The subway cars of that particular connection were decorated like saunas and they contained screens with information for tourists.
It seems like the transport planners take care of details and that they realize a lot of creative ideas successfully.
Getting around is great with the subway. It’s cheap, very fast and clean. The subway stations are also looking great. Not all of them have screen-doors but it seems like Taipei is working on installing them everywhere.
The next picture shows the brown line. The trains of that line are completely driverless. There was only one service worker in the front who probably looked if there aren’t any obstacles on the tracks. I saw him helping elderly and women with child getting out of the train. That’s a great service.
There is one big negative point about the brown line: The stations have usually only one exit. This doesn’t make it very accessible.
Although the next picture looks pretty much like an entry to Seoul, this is rather the exception in Taiwan. In Taipei’s metro you often wait on one side of the screen-door to get on the line.
This was one of the most inconvenient ways to get around. The reason is that there are a lot of obstacles (mostly scooters and street vendors) on the sidewalk. Very often there’s a step, the elevation changes from shop-front to shop-front. At least, most of the sidewalks have arcades which protected you from sun and rain.
You’ll be used to see the duration of the green phase for pedestrians on the crossings of Seoul. In Taipei they installed that, too. Even for cars, a count shows how long they have to wait until it gets green/red.
Taipei has a bike network and a bike sharing-system called “YouBike”. I wanted to try the service but the guy at a kiosk, where you have to register, said that it’s only possible if you have a Taiwanese mobile phone.
And the rack at the station next to Taipei101 was full. Around Longshan Temple I saw bicycle lanes on street-level but that was the first and last time. Around city hall and Taipei101 the cyclists have to share the sidewalk with pedestrians. That isn’t a great solution.
Honestly, I wouldn’t cycle in Taipei. Because of the Scooters and the missing bike lanes, it is very dangerous and inconvenient. The air pollution is also a big problem.
Conclusion of Public Transport in Taipei
The biggest problem of Taipei is that the traffic is dominated by scooters. They are everywhere and I believe that they are the main cause for pollution. That’s clearly the most important and difficult task for Taipei’s transport planning sector. The subway is great and the bus system works well. You can reach every tourist attraction per public transport and train. I never felt that there’s a need to take a taxi.
What can Seoul learn from Taipei? Shorter trains but more higher frequency could be applied in Seoul. The second thing is the love for details. There have been many paintings, special decorations in trains and such stuff. Seoul Metro has also some great things like poems, short stories etc., but some more well-thought concepts would be great to see.