The National Freeway Bureau said yesterday that it would launch a trial of high occupancy vehicle (HOV) control on non-holiday weekends to see if it can effectively ease the traffic on Chiang Wei-shui Freeway (Freeway No.5).
The trial is scheduled for July 8 and July 15. On these two days, drivers of small passenger vehicles will have to carry at least two other passengers before they are allowed to use the freeway. The high occupancy hours will be from 2pm to 8pm and will be enforced on northbound traffic coming from Suao (蘇澳), Luodong (羅東), Yilan and Tocheng (頭城) interchanges.
The bureau said it expected traffic would be heavy during these hours as visitors to the Yilan International Children’s Folklore & Folkgame Festival would be getting ready to go home.
This will be the first time that the system has been used on non-holiday weekends. Kang Jhy-fu (康志福), chief of the bureau’s traffic management division, said the system is intended for use during peak traffic hours on holidays. The division will quickly survey drivers and review procedure after each trial.
“If it [HOV] proves effective in easing freeway traffic, we could consider extending it to every non-holiday weekend,” Kang said.
At present, the bureau has only considered implementing HOV when there are long national holidays, such as the Lunar New Year holiday. Freeway No.5 has been described as a “gigantic parking lot” during long holidays.
Ever since Freeway No. 5’s Hsuehshan Tunnel became operational in 2006, reducing the traveling time between Taipei and Yilan from nearly three hours to 40 minutes during off-peak hours, traffic congestion has always been a problem whenever there is a long national holiday.
To ease traffic, the bureau has taken various measures and offered incentives, including giving priority access to public buses and raising the speed limit. During last year’s Lunar New Year, drivers taking alternative routes qualified for a free draw for iPads and iPhones.
However, owners of small businesses in Yilan are concerned that the HOV system might dissuade people from visiting Yilan.
In response, the bureau said that a survey from the Institute of Transportation had shown that 60 to 70 percent of vehicles on the Freeway No.5 carry three or more passengers.
The policy would meet the needs of the majority of freeway users and even attract more families to travel to Yilan, the bureau said.