The Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA) yesterday said it would consider asking the Travel Agent Association (TAA) to coordinate train ticket purchases for Chinese tour groups to avoid waste of transportation resources after some Hualien store owners created an artificial strain on the railway.
Chinese tour groups typically prefer round-the-nation tours, traveling along the west coast first and heading to the east coast via southern Taiwan, the TAA said.
However, after a landslide on the Suhua Highway in 2010 killed 21 Chinese tourists, travel agents began arranging for Chinese tourists to take trains from Hualien to Suao Township (蘇澳), Yilan County, to avoid traveling on the Suhua Highway.
Local media reported yesterday that some souvenir and handicraft stores in Hualien County have begun to purchase train tickets in bulk to pressure travel agents to bring tourists to their stores.
To secure train tickets, some stores have allegedly dispatched employees to purchase tickets in advance. If tickets from Hualien to Suao are sold out, they allegedly reserve tickets from Hualien to Taipei and then exchange the tickets for tickets that terminate in Suao three days before departure.
The TRA said it could not fine these stores because they had not broken any regulations.
Last week, Hualien Prosecutors’ Office investigators arrested one store owner suspected of purchasing hundreds of express train tickets between Hualien and Yilan.
Du Wei (杜微), director of the TRA’s transportation department, said the situation would not affect regular passengers, particularly the availability of express train tickets.
“We have noticed a drastic increase in the number of Chinese tourists since the beginning of the year. The numbers have been between 4,000 and 4,500 people per day on average between February and this month,” Du said. “To meet the rising demand in peak hours, we have increased the number of trains and added train carriages on some of the trains from Hualien to Suao between 9am and 11am.”
Du said Chinese tourists generally avoid taking express trains. The administration has added one commuter train, two Chukuang-class trains and two Fushing-class trains between 9am and 11am to the daily timetable, increasing capacity by about 2,300 people per day.
Du said the administration has regulations governing ticket purchases for group travelers. Should they need to reserve an entire train, a group representative should file an application 20 days to two months in advance, he said.
“If they [the stores] reserve too many tickets or make last-minute reservations, we may not have time to increase trains to meet demand,” Du said.
Du added that the TRA had sufficient train services to meet reasonable demand. However, what the stores in Hualien are doing creates an artificial strain on ticket supply along certain sections of the railway, leading to a waste of transportation resources, he said.