The suspension of the Maokong Gondola service on Oct. 1 after mudslides eroded the ground beneath a support pillar has sparked concerns over the system’s safety and its environmental impact despite the Taipei City Government’s guarantees that the system is safe.
Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) and other city officials attributed the mudslides to heavy rains brought by recent typhoons, saying the gondola’s operation was suspended to ease unnecessary anxiety about its safety. For Muzha (木柵) residents, however, the incident has reinforced their worries.
“We’ve never seen such serious mudslides in the neighborhood before. It must be the construction of the gondola system that damaged the mountain and caused these mudslides,” said Hsu Li-chuan (徐莉娟), director of a management committee in the Chi-Hsia Hill residential community.
The community, which is located near a gondola support pillar, was severely damaged by mudslides caused by Typhoon Jangmei when part of a cliff bearing two support pillars crumbled in the storm.
Chen Teh-yao (陳德耀), an architect who has been living in the area for more than 30 years, said residents had warned the city government about possible mudslides, as vegetation on the slopes was destroyed during the gondola’s construction.
The city government rushed the project without a proper assessment and the mudslides caused by the typhoons were solid proof that the construction was completed without proper soil and water conservation, he said.
Hsu, Chen and a group of residents living near the gondola system have been protesting since its planning stages. In addition to damaging the mountain’s geology, they said, the gondola system has also caused noise pollution and traffic congestion for the residents.
The Maokong Gondola, Taipei City’s first cable car system, was a major municipal project under former Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration and was aimed at developing tourism in Muzha.
The line, stretching from the Taipei City Zoo to Maokong, a popular area full of tea houses, cost the city more than NT$1.3 billion (US$39.3 million). It was opened to the public in July last year after a 12-week test run.
Frequent shutdowns because of operational failures in its early stages caused concerns, but the gondola soon became one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, with passenger volume exceeding 5 million last month.
The city government did not halt the gondola’s service until two days after it learned of the mudslides and a 2.5m-deep hole left under a support pillar, leading to widespread criticism from residents and city councilors that city officials put the gondola’s operation and profit ahead of public safety.
“Why the urgency to resume operations immediately after the mudslides? What’s more important — money or human life?” Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Taipei City Councilor Lee Ching-feng (李慶鋒) said.
Taipei City Secretariat Director Yang Hsi-an (楊錫安) said suspending operations would cost the Taipei Rapid Transit Corp (TRTC), the operator of the system, more than NT$45 million (US$1.4 million) per month.
DPP Taipei City Councilor Chien Yu-yen (簡余晏) said residents and some experts had predicted the environmental damage.
However, the city government dodged environmental assessments by applying for the construction license of a major transportation construction project.
“Residents have cried so many tears over the years in fighting for their safety, but what they got from the city government was its arrogance and negligence,” Chien said.
Hau said that the system was “absolutely safe” because the pillars were set into igneous rocks beneath the surface and the service was halted only to ease public anxiety.
The city government invited a group of civil engineering experts to conduct an evaluation on its stability.
Hau said services would not resume until the evaluation confirmed the system’s safety.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Taipei City Councilor Lin Yi-hua (林奕華) said the city government needed to focus its efforts on public safety.
• The system began service in July last year
• Typhoon Jangmei caused a mudslide below a support pillar of the gondola last month
• A 2.5m hole was found under one of the support pillars
• The Taipei City Government suspended operation of the system on Oct. 1, two days after discovery of the hole
• The system will remain closed pending completion of an evaluation
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