Fri, Jul 20, 2012 - Page 5 News List

Maokong Gondola mired deep in debt

EXPENSIVE TOY?The cable car system, which cost NT$1.3 billion to build, was once the feather in Ma Ying-jeou’s cap, but its popularity has gone downhill

By Liu Jung and Stacy Hsu  /  Staff reporter, with Staff writer

Taipei’s Maokong Gondola has accumulated losses of about NT$230 million (US$7.6 million) due to poorly designed cabins and a lack of promotion since 2010, becoming the biggest money-losing transportation form in the capital, according to figures released by the Taipei Rapid Transit Corp (TRTC).

The gondola system, which began operation on July 2007, recorded a NT$98 million annual loss in 2010 and a NT$83 million loss last year, following the system’s reopening in 2010 after having been suspended for 18 months due to safety concerns.

In the first half of this year, the system accumulated a NT$50 million deficit, partly due to major maintenance work that shut it down for a month. The system’s loss for this year is expected to be as high as NT$100 million.

In light of the mounting losses, the National Audit Office demanded that the Taipei City Government address the matter during an annual report on government spending last year.

The city decided to include the gondola’s losses in its Property Development Fund and then use profits made by the Taipei Arena, which, like the gondola, is run by the TRTC, to offset the accumulated deficits.

The Taipei Arena generated NT$130 million in revenue last year, more than enough to balance out the gondola system’s losses while still bringing in a NT$60 million surplus to the fund.

“It’s [so far] feasible to cover losses with the combined profits gained by the company’s two businesses,” TRTC general manager Tan Gwa-guang (譚國光) said.

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) saw the gondola, which was built during his term as Taipei mayor and cost the city NT$1.3 billion, as his greatest mayoral achievement.

“Some said I have achieved nothing during my eight-year tenure as Taipei mayor and only knew how to jog and swim. Now it proves that I also know how to construct a cable car system,” Ma said at the gondola’s opening ceremony.

The system did enjoy a period of initial success, when all the stations were inundated by scores of people lining up for up to two hours to take a ride on the weekend.

It also recorded a single-day record of 23,000 passengers.

However, the popularity was short-lived, as the system was shut down for 18 months starting in 2008 because of safety concerns after the foundation of a support pillar was eroded during a typhoon.

“A wrongful policy is even more horrendous than corruption,” Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Taipei City Councilor Wang Shih-chien (王世堅) said.

Wang said Ma had rushed to start construction in a bid to appeal to voters.

“It turned out that the seeming glory of the system at the time was nothing but a pipe dream, because it was just a money-losing proposition that no private corporation will be willing to take and whose financial distress will only go from bad to worse,” Wang said.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Taipei City Councilor Lee Ching-yuan (李慶元) blamed the dwindling popularity of the gondola on the lack of action on the part of Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin’s (郝龍斌) administration to build a leisure area.

Taipei City Bureau of Transportation Director Lin Chih-ying (林志盈), who has served under both Ma and Hau, said that passengers rode the gondola only to “try it out.”

“Because of limitations imposed by land use regulations around the mountainous area of Maokong, we have not developed tourist attractions,” Lin said.

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