Weekend ticket discounts offered by the Taipei Rapid Transit Corp (TRTC, 台北捷運公司) may not work well to lure passengers back to the city's Mass Rapid Transportation (MRT) system, as many still plan to avoid public transportation over SARS fears.
The TRTC hopes to revive sagging weekend travel starting Sunday by offering a buy-one-get-one-free companion ticket. The passes are good for unlimited travel on the day of purchase.
A second weekend discount allows groups of four to enjoy one way travel to any destination for NT$60.
Many customers, however, said they are not ready to get back on the trains despite the bargain prices.
"Money is not the issue," said Grace Chang (張欣佩), an employee at a Taipei electronics company. Chang used to be a daily MRT commuter but has hitched a ride to work with her mother since early this month.
"After SARS is contained then I'll consider taking the MRT," she said.
MRT traffic on weekends has plummeted 53 percent from 852,900 passengers on average last month to 399,000 per day last weekend, according to TRTC's statistics.
Another Taipei resident said she will not take advantage of the weekend discounts because she would rather stay indoors.
"My family usually makes use of the MRT to various recreational areas to avoid heavy traffic during weekends until the SARS outbreak occurred," said housewife Sarah Wang (王秀文) yesterday. "I'd rather stay at home or take my kids to a park in my neighborhood."
Like Wang, many Taipei residents choose not to go out after SARS broke out at the Hoping Hospital late last month, Taipei City Police Department Traffic Division section director Lee Teh-cheng (
In particular, weekend traffic has been significantly reduced.
Traffic in the normally packed Chunghsiao East Road shopping district and the Hsimenting area, was especially low on recent weekends, Lee said.
But officials at TRTC remain confident the fare reduction will tempt the public back on the MRT.
"By giving out the discount incentive, we hope to encourage people to go outdoors on the weekends as they did before the SARS outbreak," TRTC public relations manager Ling Chi-yao (凌啟堯) said yesterday. "And we hope the promotion can bring in more business for the MRT system."
The scheme is based on a simple premise: Taipei residents love a bargain.
"I believe the promotions will attract many passengers because, like the big sales provided by Sogo [Department Store] and the one-dollar lunch box from the Sheraton Taipei Hotel, they struck the right note," Ling said.
MRT traffic was 937,000 passengers per day in March, but the number fell by 8 percent to 860,000 last month, and continued to dive by 37 percent to 587,000 this month, according to TRTC's statistics.