Thu, Apr 23, 2009 - Page 4 News List

Minister growing cold on future MRT construction

By Shelley Shan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Minister of Transportation and Communications Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國) said yesterday the ministry would only approve the construction of mass rapid transit (MRT) systems for a city or metropolitan area if it had sufficient potential users to sustain operations.

“Whenever there is a request for a MRT system, the first question we [the ministry] will ask is if there are enough potential users,” Mao said. “If you can’t even run a stable and regular public bus system, if you only have single-digit or zero growth in public transportation use year after year, then what qualifies a city to talk about building an MRT system? Because once such a system is built, it will become a disaster.”

The ministry would look to implement a “cheaper, more effective and more efficient” alternative before it decided to construct an MRT system, Mao said, who made the remarks at a seminar held by the Institute of Transportation and the Chinese Institute discussing ways to improve public and highway transportation systems.

Mao’s speech potentially sets the tone for the MOTC’s public transportation policy in the years to come.

Meanwhile, Mao reminded the consulting firms entrusted by the MOTC to research the viability of public transportation projects that they had to focus on analysis of the operational costs, particularly the financial risks and burdens that local governments would bear.

“Doing a viability research on a project does not mean the project is viable,” he said. “Particularly, consulting firms have to check if the local government has the financial capacity to sustain the operations of the transportation system.”

Mao said local governments must also submit specific plans to increase the usage of public transportation systems. The MOTC, on the other hand, would examine the rate of use of the established systems and the decline in private car use to determine whether a project would receive financial support from the central government.

Counties planning to build MRT systems must simultaneously submit alternative plans, he said.

Except for Taipei City, Mao said there was probably no other place that needed an MRT.

“That is not to say there won’t be another MRT system somewhere in the country,” Mao said later. “The point is that a city has to have a certain number of potential users.”

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