Highway bus commuters may be given discounts as a way to encourage the use of public transportation, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications said yesterday.
Minister of Transportation and Communications Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國) was scheduled to brief the legislature’s Transportation Committee on the ministry’s budget plan for fiscal 2012, but subsidies granted to highway bus operators became the focus of the question-and-answer session.
The bus operators recently said instead of subsidies, they would prefer raising ticket prices — which has to be approved by the ministry — because the subsidies were not enough to cover their losses from rising oil prices.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Yeh Yi-jin (葉宜津) said the ministry spends approximately NT$2 billion (US$69.9 million) subsidizing highway bus operators for providing services to residents living in remote areas.
“The subsidies help them purchase new buses and install multiple-card readers [but] very few people benefit from the change,” Yeh said.
“Now they are taking the people hostage, asking the government to give more and threatening to raise prices,” Yeh said. “The ministry should not accept such blackmail.”
She suggested the subsidies be spent on consumers instead. The ministry should consider giving people discounts, such as receiving an additional NT$100 for free on top of a NT$500 card refill.
In response, Mao said that subsidies would in the future go directly to frequent highway bus riders.
“Once we have completed the installations of the multiple-card readers, the rest of the funds used to develop the public transportation system will be used to subsidize frequent riders instead,” he said, adding that the ministry was still drafting the details of the plan.
The ministry activated the plan last year as part of a three-year project to develop and improve the nation’s public transportation system. The ministry further budgeted NT$15 billion to help the bus operators upgrade their services.