Traffic near the Yuanshan Bus Station (圓山轉運站) in Taipei was severely disrupted yesterday morning when thousands of people tried to get free tickets for a bus trip to Yilan County.
The special offer was provided by freeway operator Kuo Kuang Motor Transport (國光客運), which was scheduled to launch three new bus routes via Freeway No. 5 to Yilan, Toucheng (頭城) and Nanfangao (南方澳) in Yilan County yesterday. To attract customers for the new bus routes, the bus company allowed people to board the bus free of charge for three days, from yesterday until tomorrow.
The bus company originally planned to hand out 20,000 tickets in three days. However, all the tickets were gone by 10am yesterday. Many people at the station were furious because they started queuing at 4am and did not manage to get tickets.
The promotional event turned into a pandemonium when some people fought to get on the bus. Others tried to stop the first two buses from leaving the station by blocking their way, which subsequently affected the traffic near the bus station
“I left my house in Dashi (大溪) [in Taoyuan County] at about 5am and arrived here at about 6am. Those who were behind us had already moved up and got tickets, but we are still waiting here in line,” an 84-year-old man said.
One woman was so angry that she tore up the newspaper advertisement about the free offer, accusing the company of lying to the public.
To appease the people’s anger, the bus company announced yesterday that it would extend the expiration date from tomorrow to a month from yesterday.
Kuo Kuang spokesperson Song Li-shan (宋立山) apologized to the public for letting the situation get out of control.
Taipei City’s Department of Transportation yesterday fined Kuo Kuang more than NT$90,000 (US$3,000) for violating traffic regulations.
Upon hearing about the chaotic situation that affected the traffic, Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) instructed the Department of Transportation to protect the rights of passengers and to punish the bus company if necessary.
Meanwhile, the Directorate-General of Highways said the bus operator could face a penalty of NT$351,000 for operating the new bus routes without first obtaining the official permits to do so.
Hsieh Chieh-tien (謝界田), director of the DGH’s motor vehicle division, said the directorate did not approve the company’s right to operate the new routes until 5pm on Thursday, adding that the company did not obtain the official permit until 11:15am yesterday.
“The bus company violated the Transportation Management Regulations (汽車運輸業管理規則) by launching the service before obtaining the permit,” Hsieh said. “It dispatched 39 buses on the new bus routes before 11:15am yesterday and the penalty for each illegally dispatched bus is NT$9,000, based on the Highway Act (公路法).”
However, Kuo Kuang president Wu Chung-hsi (吳忠錫) disagreed with the directorate’s interpretation of the law, adding that the company would lodge an appeal after receiving the official ruling from the directorate.
“Our understanding is that we had secured the right to provide a bus service on the new routes after they approved our applications,” Wu said.
Wu said the company would pay the fines issued by the Taipei City Government, but it would also lodge an appeal for the parts of the offense for which it is not to blame.
Additional reporting by Mo Yan-chih