Fri, Mar 16, 2018 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Monthly pass has social benefits

The unveiling on Tuesday of a monthly pass that allows users to take unlimited rides on all Taipei and New Taipei City metro and bus lines, as well as free YouBike rides up to 30 minutes, has been welcomed in most parts of the Taipei metropolitan area, but some critics have blasted it as short-sighted and an electoral strategy.

Priced at NT$1,280 per month, the pass is a bargain for those who spend more than NT$42 per day on public transportation. New Taipei City residents who commute to the capital for work every day are expected to benefit most.

The Taipei Department of Transportation said it expects about 236,000 cards to be registered for the all-in-one transportation pass before it is officially launched on April 16.

Critics have said that the pass could put a dent in the already indebted state coffers and have asked why taxpayers should finance a policy that would only benefit public transportation users.

They have also questioned the motives of Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), who is seeking re-election, for introducing the pass only a few months before the nine-in-one local elections scheduled for Nov. 24.

Elections are always a factor: They motivate most politicians to make sure that their policies appeal to voters or at least upset as few of them as possible. However, those who think the policy of limited benefit are perhaps too fixated on the immediate revenue loss to see the long-term social gains.

Taipei Rapid Transit Corp (TRTC) statistics showed that the two cities’ shared metro system recorded about 746 million rides last year.

The number might seem impressive at first glance, but it translates into just 113 rides per person per year, given that the two cities have a combined population of 6.6 million people. This means that on average, each resident takes the MRT once every three days.

A report published by the Ministry of Transportation and Communications in June last year also showed that, despite the city boasting the most convenient public transportation system in Taiwan, only 42.8 percent of Taipei residents used public transportation in 2016, followed by 39.8 percent of Keelung residents and 33.8 percent of New Taipei City’s.

There could be many reasons why people choose their cars or scooters over public transportation. Their choices could be informed by cost, convenience, comfort or even freedom. However, if local governments want to boost the number of people using public transportation, cost is the easiest, if not the only, factor they can directly influence.

It is true that the introduction of a fairly inexpensive monthly pass means less revenue for TRTC and the Taipei City Government, but taking more private cars off the road should reduce traffic congestion and, in turn, pollution.

Cleaner air means that less people would suffer from air pollution-related diseases, which over time could ease the financial burden on the National Health Insurance system.

Also, statistics from the National Police Agency found that in January alone, more than 6,000 people were injured and 12 were killed in road accidents in Taipei and New Taipei City. Having less cars on the road could reduce the number of traffic accidents. That means lower collective medical costs and less bereaved families.

Regardless of whether the monthly pass is a product of electioneering, a policy that might have long-lasting social benefits is one that should be welcomed.

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