Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) said she hopes that a proposal to establish a sea lane transportation route along the east coast would resolve the decades-long traffic issue which has plagued the region’s residents.
Hsiao plans to propose the establishment of a sea lane connecting Suao (蘇澳), Yilan County and Hualien by ferry to ease the current railway ticket shortage and also to cut the commute people have to endure when traveling by highway.
“Once the sea lane is established, it will only take one hour to get to Hualien and the traffic situation along the Suhua Highway will be greatly improved. It will also help address the scarcity of railway tickets,” Hsiao told reporters during a visit to Hualien at the weekend.
The main transport link between eastern and northern Taiwan — the 118km-Suhua Highway – is built into cliffs high above the Pacific Ocean and is notoriously dangerous.
Transportation has long been a “nightmare” for residents in Hualien with railway tickets in limited supply and the coastal highway often being closed due to landslides during the typhoon season.
The ticket issue worsened after Taiwan relaxed regulations on cross-strait travelers, causing an influx of Chinese tourists to the region, Hsiao said.
Most young people from the region — which continues to see a population outflow — work in Taipei and return to Hualien to spend time with their families which makes commuting time an important issue, she said, adding that transportation was also crucial for the region which is known for its agricultural produce.
“Ask residents in eastern Taiwan and I guess more than 90 percent of them would support the proposal — or any proposal which would alleviate the transportation hassle” Hsiao said.
The lawmaker — who represents Hualien constituency — said the project would be a win-win situation for everyone and would help by splitting passenger flow, ensuring availability of transport links during typhoon season, creating another tourist attraction as well as reducing the commute time from between two to three hours down to one.
The costs for such a project would be a lot lower than building a land-based alternative and would be welcomed by the environmentalists, she said, adding that a ferry which could carry passengers, buses and trucks would answer multiple service needs.
There used to be a sea transport line between northern and eastern Taiwan and a Taiwanese company bought a second-hand ferry from Japan in 1975, called the Lupinus, which offered passenger and cargo transport between Keelung Port and Hualien. However, the once popular ferry line was forced to close in 1983 after the North-Link railway line went into operation in 1980.
Hsiao said she is worried that the project could be unprofitable due to high ticket prices and fuel costs and that the service would need to be fully government-funded or it would need to adopt a BOT (built, operate, transfer) model which would include private operators, but she says she is not planning on giving up.
The lawmaker said she would keep pushing the proposal in the upcoming legislative session and plans to organize public hearings on the subject.
“If the government offers transportation subsidies to residents on outlying islands, it would be fair to offer residents of eastern Taiwan the same,” Hsiao said.