Wed, Mar 20, 2002 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan's traffic woes must be dealt with

By Wang Ching-ruey, Chiang Yu-sheng and Hochen Tan 王慶瑞、姜渝生、賀陳旦

A few days ago, Premier Yu Shyi-kun reaffirmed his ideals of promoting a humanist spirit and simplicity in government. The words mirror the man. We have great admiration for the premier, however, we would like to submit our suggestions, to the "combative Cabinet."

Traffic problems are a major concern of the public. Although there is never any shortage of policy suggestions on the issue, many of them are simply rub-bish. Some major projects are proposed in order to fulfil campaign promises, as well as to boost the economy. These construction projects, which cost hundreds of billions of dollars, usually drag on for years.

Other projects are proposed in order to improve local infrastructure. These projects usually wipe out the budgets of local governments. This has gone on now for a few decades, but the public's dissatisfaction with thetraffic situation continues to grow despite the plethora of projects. The problems lie mostly in the uncertainty and inconsistency of transport policy.

The National Eastern Freeway (東部國道), the National Central Cross-island Highway (中橫國道) and the National Southern Cross-island Freeway (南橫國道) construction projects have featured frequently as election issues. But they have never been taken seriously by our transport authorities.

It would also seem premature to welcome the proposed international airport in central Taiwan given the size of its likely market. Given its financial difficulties, the government should not be proposing such a major project which has the effect of causing other construction projects to be neglected. Why propose such a grand project when it is of such questionable value?

It is not good policy to seek to boost tourism in eastern Taiwan by building freeways and allowing cars to rush to the east on weekends and holidays. Local residents may not profit from such investments, while tourist spots may suffer because of large crowds. What we should do is encourage our tourists to use local transport. The government must not ruin the environment of the east by building freeways that are not of much use.

The total budget for the above freeway constructions is estimated to be NT$300 billion. If we were to take one-tenth of that budget to create a special fund to develop eastern Taiwan, annual interest on the fund would be as high as NT$1.5 billion. That would be quite sufficient to enable us to subsidize the tourist industry, as well as to train local tour guides. We truly believe that this is a transport policy that is manageable, practical and feasible.

Last, and most frequently forgotten, the government has lacked the necessary will and therefore failed to make a substantial input into improving traffic in urban areas for many years. As globalization continues, the world's major cities have to compete with one another. A city without an efficient mass rapid transit system will never have an opportunity to play a significant role on the world stage. Insufficient or unpunctual transportation is an economic weakness; chaotic traffic reduces people's quality of life. How can Taiwan attract talent and develop a knowledge-based economy under such circumstances?

Issues ranging from investments in transportation and improvement of bus services to the enactment of the Mass Transportation Act (大眾運輸條例) must all be included in the Cabinet's action plan so that we can develop a highly pragmatic transportation policy.

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