With the mercury in Taipei rising past 37°C for six consecutive days last week, the number of passengers on the Maokong Gondola has been dwindling.
Touted by the city government as one of Taipei’s top tourist attractions, the gondola has received growing complaints about poor ventilation and the frequency with which operations are suspended.
A thermometer placed inside one of the gondola cabins on the side facing the sun at noon on Saturday registered a temperature of 37.4°C, which was even higher than the outside temperature at the time.
Passengers taking a 20-minute ride on the cable car system from the Taipei Zoo Station to the Maokong Station often find themselves soaked in sweat by the end because of the poor ventilation.
Although the Taipei Rapid Transit Corp (TRTC) has introduced slats to the originally airtight windows in an effort to provide better ventilation, the problem has yet to be fully addressed.
To boost the transport capacity of the system, the TRTC launched a seasonal promotional campaign targeting students on summer break, offering free rides to passengers aged 12 or under and a “buy one, get one free” deal for those aged above 12.
Despite the promotions, parents are reluctant to take their children for a gondola ride, fearing that the lack of air-conditioning and ventilation could put their children at risk of heatstroke.
Another deal breaker for passengers is the frequent suspension of the gondola service due to poor weather conditions, in particular during the summer when afternoon thundershowers are commonplace.
Taipei City Councilor Chuang Ruei-hsiung (莊瑞雄) of the Democratic Progressive Party said the gondola system was built by the French company POMA and had never been used in countries in a subtropical zone.
“The Taipei City Government should certainly be scolded for approving these ‘roasting cabins’ without considering Taiwan’s climate,” Chuang said.
In response to the criticism, TRTC general manager Tan Gwa-guang (譚國光) said the gondola cabins could not be equipped with air-conditioners mainly because they do not have power systems.
Tan said the ventilation provided by the addition of window shades in each cable car had already reached maximum capacity.
Compared with the Maokong Gondola’s seemingly dwindling popularity, the cable car system linking Sun Moon Lake and the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village amusement park in Nantou County, on the other hand, is drawing more passengers despite the rising temperatures.
The Sun Moon Lake Ropeway, a 1.87km route — built, owned and operated by the park — has carried more than 5 million passengers since it started operations in December 2009. On Saturday, the cable car system logged more than 8,000 visits.
“The Sun Moon Lake Ropeway travels at about 1,000m above sea level, with four fanlights and two large entrance doors installed in each cabin in addition to numerous ventilation holes on the floor,” said Huang Jui-chi (黃瑞奇), a manager at the culture village.
This design allows good air circulation in the cable cars, thereby lowering the cabin temperature, Huang said.
In addition to offering passengers an ideal riding environment, the park has also launched a host of creative promotion campaigns to boost local tourism, observers said.
This year, for example, the park decorated the cabins with characters of the popular Japanese manga series One Piece, successfully attracting flocks of fans eager to have a ride.