Thu, Jan 11, 2018 - Page 8 News List

HSR debate is about more than ticket sales

By Chiu Yin-hao 邱英浩

News media have been reporting that extending the high-speed rail (HSR) to Pingtung County from its existing terminal in Kaohsiung’s Zuoying District (左營) would cost NT$50 billion (US$1.69 billion), but only cut travel time by about 10 minutes. However, there are many more aspects to consider.

To raise the discussion to the level of national and regional development, HSR construction should be assessed from a range of aspects, such as the benefits to be gained from the development of stations and the surrounding land, as well as tax increment revenue and new job opportunities.

First, when station development includes an appropriate product mix, it can effectively boost the benefits to be gained from HSR and other mass transit projects. Good examples include the joint development of the rail and metro station in Taipei’s Nangang District (南港) and the business strategy followed by Japan Railways Group. In both cases, station development is an important source of revenue.

The Ministry of Transportation and Communications’ original feasibility study for a high-speed railway in Taiwan’s western corridor also included the potential benefits of station development as an important assessment factor, and this happened again when the ministry was assessing a proposal to build additional HSR stations in Miaoli, Changhua and Yunlin counties, which were built and are now in operation.

Second, extending the HSR to Pingtung would open up a transport artery that would help activate the domestic demand market. The HSR would attract large numbers of people to the area, and this transport-oriented development model would stimulate urban development, as has happened with the developmental orientations of the Taoyuan, Hsinchu and Taichung HSR stations.

The handbook on the assessment of the economic benefits of transport construction plans published by the ministry’s Institute of Transportation also lists the benefits of peripheral land development as an assessment item.

Third, HSR development can generate various kinds of tax revenue to fuel the national economy.

On Dec. 27 last year, Premier William Lai (賴清德) proposed amending the Act Governing the Allocation of Government Revenues and Expenditures (財政收支劃分法) with the aim of adjusting the tax system and making regional development more balanced.

Pingtung is a peripheral region, so an HSR station development there would certainly generate national and local tax revenue, which would be in line with the government’s goal.

Finally, HSR construction could drive Pingtung’s development and create job opportunities. Pingtung has been suffering from a serious population exodus, but construction of an HSR would improve the county’s business and economic environment and drive the development of industrial and business parks. These developments would attract high-value industries and encourage talented people who have left the county to move home.

Early last year, the Bureau of High Speed Rail initiated a feasibility assessment for extending the HSR to Pingtung via a new route. On Dec. 26, it held an end-of-session review meeting, but it assessed the benefits of building the HSR extension only in terms of ticket revenue and time costs.

The HSR extension should be considered on other levels, such as national development strategy and the public’s well-being. Beneficial factors, such as regional economic development, tax revenue and employment opportunities, should be included when assessing the value of extending the HSR to Pingtung.

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