Lawmakers and consumer rights advocates yesterday demanded that Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp (THSRC) suspend a ticket price increase, saying that the planned hike is unreasonable and could further widen the North-South wealth gap.
THSRC announced on Tuesday last week that the price of high-speed rail tickets would increase by 9.7 percent from October, which means that the cost of a round-trip ticket between Taipei and Greater Kaohsiung would increase by NT$280.
High-speed rail ticket prices have increased by 12.62 percent between 2008 and last year, 3.47 times the amount the consumer price index rose by during the same period, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Kuan Bi-ling (管碧玲) told a press conference.
“This shows how unreasonable THSRC’s planned increase is. What is more intolerable is that the Ministry of Transportation and Communication’s Bureau of High Speed Rail and THSRC conspired over the increase during the legislative recess,” she said.
The high-speed rail firm has generally been profitable, with net profits of NT$580 (US$19.37 million) in 2011, NT$360 million last year and NT$200 million for the first half of this year, but the company has suffered losses in its non-operating businesses, such as advertising and property developments, Kuan said.
The operator’s poor business management further underlined why the planned fare increase is unacceptable, she said.
The increase is likely to create tension between people living in southern and northern areas due to its increased financial burden and widening the wealth gap, Taiwan Consumer Protection Association president Chen Chiu-hsiung (陳秋雄) said.
The government should take an active interest in the company’s decision to raise prices, since the high-speed rail service enjoys a monopoly, he added.
DPP Legislator Lee Kun-tse (李昆澤) said THSRC’s priority is to improve passenger load, which has ranged between 54 percent and 57 percent during its six-year existence.
Lee said that the planned price increase “would very likely trigger a general price increase for all forms of public transportation.”
Yang Cheng-chun (楊正君), director of the Bureau of High Speed Rail’s First Division, said his bureau would request THSRC — authorized under its operating contract to adjust ticket prices — to offer discounts and incentives to underprivileged groups.