Homebound travelers hit the nation's freeways and train stations yesterday evening as Taiwanese geared up to celebrate the Lunar New Year holiday.
By 6pm, freeway traffic in the north had already slowed in several sections, including those between Neili (內壢) and Jhongli (中壢) and the Sijhih (汐止) and Donghu (東湖) interchanges on the Sun Yat-sen Freeway (Freeway No. 1), South Taoyuan (南桃園) and Danan (大湳) interchanges on Freeway No. 2, and between Ankeng (安坑) and Jhonghe (中和) interchanges on the Formosa Freeway (Freeway No. 3). The average speed was below 40 kph.
The bureau estimated that the freeway traffic would become heavier as the toll-free hours drew near.
The bureau's transportation plan covers traffic from yesterday through Feb. 2. This year, the vehicle high occupancy rate — where each car must have at least three occupants — will only be implemented next Friday and Saturday from 9am to 3pm on the northbound lanes between Neili and Kaohsiung on the Sun Yat-sen Freeway and the northbound lanes between Dasi (大溪) and Jiouru (九如) on the Formosa Freeway.
From Jan. 24 to Feb. 1, the toll-free hours of freeway Nos. 1, 3 and 5 will be from 12am to 7pm, although the bureau will add toll-free hours on certain days or at certain toll stations.
Both Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) and Minister of Transportation and Communications Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國) supervised the transport situation at the National Freeway Bureau Control Center and Taipei Railway Station.
Despite a protest by Ilan's Toucheng Township (頭城) against the bureau's measure to limit access to the Toucheng Interchange to large passenger buses only, the bureau's director general, Lee Tai-ming (李泰明), said that its policy remained unchanged.
The bureau, however, will allow some flexibility if the traffic situation around Toucheng Exchange meets three conditions. First, the average driving speed must exceed 60kph. Second, the number of vehicles passing through the Toucheng Toll Station must be below 2,200 per hour. Lastly, the overall traffic volume must decline gradually on the National Freeway No. 5.
To avoid such controversies in the future, Mao suggested that the bureau run various simulation models first before drafting the transportation plan for the holidays.
“The bureau has been handling holiday traffic for more than 20 years and should have the statistics,” he said. “And when you need to persuade the motorists, you need to present them with solid evidence.”
Liu said after briefings at the freeway bureau that the last time he came to the control center was about 12 years ago, when he was still the transportation minister. He said the bureau was then just testing the effectiveness of policies such as meter controls at the ramps, high occupancy vehicle lanes and toll-free hours.
Liu added that the bureau had adopted some creative measures this year, including providing immediate traffic updates through giant message boards on the freeways.
While both freeway officials and police have given up their holidays to ensure smooth freeway traffic, Liu also asked the motorists to cooperate and follow traffic rules.
Meanwhile, reports last night said that Toucheng Village chief Chen Shiu-nuan (陳秀暖) had taken the traffic restriction sign down in a direct challenge to the bureau.
They added that she may be charged with damaging public property.