Integrating metro lines
With the new Kaohsiung Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) up and running, local transport authorities should consider integrating the metro systems of the nation’s two main cities by using a smart card.
Kaohsiung, which has experienced rapid growth over the past 20 years, should be proud of its shiny new MRT, complete with the latest in public safety and technological standards.
When I was in Seoul this summer, I was impressed with the city’s “T Money” system — with the “T” standing for “travel, touch, traffic and technology.” This smart card system debuted in 2004, inspired, perhaps, by an earlier Japanese innovation in 2001, the Suica.
The idea of a metro card is nothing new, but what Suica — the “Apple” of smart cards — pioneered was a public transit card with a much broader use: a rechargeable train and bus card for use in multiple Japanese cities. Apple Inc has shown that what we never knew we needed is just what we can’t live without: the iPod, or more recently, the iPhone. Seoul’s T-Money card works in the same convenient way, allowing one to pay taxi fare or even buy a newspaper at a roadside stand with an easy-to-use “electronic money” card.
Taiwan should jump on this bandwagon and stands to benefit because of its small size. With the recent completion of the nation’s High Speed Rail, one of the most affordable, reliable high-speed trains I’ve even taken, the time has come to integrate local public transit systems.
I understand that the government may not be ready to spend money to change existing ticketing machines. But the city should consider the fact that it would benefit many local residents traveling between Taipei and Kaohsiung. A smart card would greatly benefit tourists, who would be able to buy a card upon arrival at Taoyuan or Kaohsiung airports and use it to travel around both cities with ease. Foreign visitors unable to read Chinese would find it exceptionally helpful.
When I lived in Seoul seven years ago, there was no integrated bus-to-train card, and we did the best we could, but few foreigners ever took buses. However, these days in Seoul I see more foreigners taking advantage of the public transit system. Imagine a similarly integrated Taiwan, welcoming foreign tourists with an all-in-one card that would get you around Taipei and Kaohsiung without having to calculate fares, wait in long lines at metro ticketing machines or haggle with taxi drivers. Just one click and you’d be off.
Taiwan is a country that benefits from its size: It is not so big as to be intimidating, but not so small that you can see everything in a day or two. The high speed rail has helped link the north and south metro areas. The government should take the next step in integrating its local metro systems as well.
Smarter way to trade
For the past five months, the issue of Taiwan and China signing an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) has been one of the hottest topics in local media. Supporters say signing an ECFA with China will prevent Taiwan from being marginalized when ASEAN+1 (China) takes effect next year. They also say this is what “flexible diplomacy” means. Opponents argue that signing an ECFA will favor only big companies and gradually diminish Taiwanese sovereignty through an economic merger with China.