After eight long years of traffic disruptions and the budget for the project being increased five times, the Taipei MRT Xinyi Line is finally up and running.
Media outlets fell over themselves in reporting how several of the stations on this line had specially designed landscapes outside them, with every report detailing how great the design was and that these must be the most beautiful MRT stations in the nation. However, the media showed almost no concern for the fact that the project cost for this short line of only 6.5km was NT$39 billion (US$1.3 billion) — or NT$6 billion per kilometer.
It is a good thing that the Xinyi Line is operational and that the stations have been designed tastefully, and can thus be used as spaces for the display of public art. However, spending an average of NT$4.197 billion per kilometer on construction work alone is far too much and very wasteful. It is also unreasonable that the budget for the project was increased five times. Can the government assure the public that this new line will not be plagued by the same problems caused by ill advice, just like the Wenshan Line between Muzha and Neihu? It is strange that the media outlets have not shown any interest in such issues.
A friend from overseas who has worked in Taiwan for many years once asked a question that is very pertinent to Taiwanese society. My friend asked why the Taiwanese government builds a whole heap of very expensive things with questionable quality. People in the know are well aware that this is related to the complex relationship between business and government.
Government debt, both central and local, is increasing rapidly, while ordinary people are having a hard time getting by because of the abysmal economy. However, there are still political hacks out there who have not yet changed their ways and continue to crave notoriety while wasting public funds and treating infrastructure like it is something ripe for their picking. They are still in the habit of spending large sums of money in an attempt to show off what they view as “political achievements.”
During the speech President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) gave at the opening of the Xinyi Line, he did not forget to take credit for developments, by telling everyone not to forget that the new line was something he made happen during his time as Taipei mayor. In all honesty, there is really nothing worth bragging about when an MRT line only a little more than 6km long cost almost NT$40 billion in taxpayers’ hard-earned money to build. Instead, what Ma should have done was express shame for wasting so much money.
If a few hundred million could have been saved for each kilometer of the Xinyi Line, not only could the government have solved the transportation problems faced by ill, elderly people in remote areas, but disadvantaged students around the nation could also have received the help they need in paying for their school lunches. Unfortunately, however, political hacks who are merely concerned with their own image and interests will never be able to see what is really of the most substantial benefit to Taiwanese.
Hsu Yu-fang is a professor in the department of Sinophone literatures at National Dong Hwa University.
Translated by Drew Cameron