Tue, May 02, 2017 - Page 8 News List

MRT not a shortcut to economic development


President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has announced that a Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system is to be built in Changhua County. With every city and county demanding an MRT or light-rail system, Tainan, Hsinchu, Keelung and Changhua are next in line to join Taipei, Kaohsiung, Taoyuan and Taichung. This development is no different from the 1990s policy to open many new universities, which has resulted in a higher education crisis.

People who have traveled on the Taipei MRT are surely impressed by its convenience and the crowds. It seems that having an MRT is the symbol of a fashionable city. Having experienced the “convenience” and seen the “profits” made by its operator, Taipei Rapid Transit Corp, city mayors and county commissioners across the nation want to emulate this success.

However, the Taipei MRT’s 20-year history shows that although the average number of people using the system last year exceeded 2 million per day, the transportation side of the business was still losing money. Had it not been for other sources of revenue, such as advertising and rent, there would not have been enough money to cover the system’s operating costs.

Taipei and New Taipei City have a population of more than 6.5 million, and combined with tourists and business visitors, these people account for the average daily transport volume of more than 2 million passengers.

Kaohsiung has a population of less than 3 million, and after 10 years in operation, the transportation side of its MRT business is still losing money. Let us not even mention Changhua County, with a population of less than 1.3 million. If local populations continue to grow, it might make sense, but are not all Taiwanese feeling the pressure of the nation’s low birthrate?

Those who want to use transportation infrastructure to bolster the local economy might have mistakenly simplified the relationship between cause and effect. Transportation infrastructure is indeed an important component of economic development, but it is not certain to create economic development. Other key components are an available workforce and a conducive industrial environment.

Transportation infrastructure alone without supporting measures run the risk of resulting in an empty and unused MRT system.

Yang Chih-yuan is an assistant professor at National Taiwan Normal University.

Translated by Lin Lee-Kai

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