Sat, Jul 31, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Key to Taipei is the MRT, not Ma

Given the lamentable state of Taipei City under the administration of its jogging clown of a mayor, it is unusual to have something good to say about the place. Mayor Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) ruthless seizing of photo opportunities at the expense of actually doing anything to make the capital better has resulted in Taipei becoming the most backward of the nation's major conurbations. It is indicative of just how badly Ma has performed that the recent furor over the suggestion that the capital be moved to Kaohsiung was even possible. It may be impractical, primarily for financial reasons, but the idea is not risible in the way it would have been, say, 10 years ago.

Taipei does, however, have one success story to its credit: its mass rapid transit (MRT) system. The company that runs the system, the Taipei Rapid Transit Corp, celebrated its 10th birthday this week.

A decade on, we tend to take the MRT for granted, its clean quiet efficiency is a welcome respite from the chaos above, or -- in the case of the Mucha line -- below it. Few now care to remember the anguish with which the system was born, the endless bickering, the legal suits, the doubts about safety, the torrent of public scorn over the succession of snafus which delayed the opening of the Mucha line, the cracked pillars, the brake fires, the famous rocking carriages on the Tamsui line.

Getting the system up and running was a Herculean task for which virtually nobody received a ha'porth of thanks. And yet the MRT has changed Taipei very much for the better immensely and, for those lucky enough to live and work in close proximity to a line, made it a far more livable city.

If there is any criticism to make of the system it is simply that it is not extensive enough, but this should be redressed in the next decade with new lines to Hsinchuang and Neihu now being built, the Xinyi line under development, and projected lines through Yungho/Chungho, to Shulin and a loop line round the outskirts of the conurbation.

It is, perhaps, ironic that while the MRT is indelibly associated with Taipei City Government, its greatest impact will be on Taipei County, making the suburbs across the rivers, which to many city dwellers seem almost like a foreign land, far more accessible and binding them into the life of the city in a way that they have never been before. Eventually this is will raise the question of why the Taipei metropolis should have two different governments with very different powers. Would it not be better to have the entire metropolis under one administration? Currently the imbalance between Taipei City and Taipei County is apparent to anyone with eyes to see, and it is high time that this disparity was redressed.

How might this change Taipei politically? Currently the city government is dominated by the pan-blues and is always likely to be so while the area under its administration remains the same. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) city government of 1994 to 1998 was caused by a split vote which is unlikely to be repeated and the preponderance of Mainlanders in the city and their voting habits make it unlikely that the DPP will be in City Hall again in the foreseeable future. As a result mayors like do-nothing Ma can get away with their uselessness because Taipei is a "safe seat." But add a large chunk of the population of Taipei County and the ethnic balance would be altered in such as way as to give the DPP a fighting chance.

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