Enjoying the scenery of the east coast and cultural performances, hundreds of people yesterday experienced a different way of traveling from Yilan’s Suao Township (蘇澳) to Hualien on a jet ferry, a service that Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) would like to make regular option.
Excited passengers aboard the Natchan Rera rushed to the windows when the ferry departed from the Port of Suao to take pictures or simply look at the view.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please look to your right, we are passing by the mouth of Liwu River (立霧溪), which is 55km long, and cuts through the mountains, and carved the mountains into the Taroko Gorge,” a crewmember said.
Landmark locations were announced through the PA system to passengers during the journey.
“This is my first time riding on the Natchan Rera. The trip is very enjoyable, and the boat is quite stable,” said a resident of Taoyuan County’s Dasi Township (大溪) surnamed Chen (陳), who was traveling with his wife and friends.
“Taiwan is surrounded by the ocean. I think it is a very good idea to have a ‘blue highway,’ and I hope ferry lines around the island could be established with vessels capable of carrying cars, so I can travel from Keelung to Hualien, Hualien to Greater Kaohsiung, and Greater Kaohsiung back to Keelung on boats, and drive my car around when the boat docks at different cities,” Chen said.
“It is also a very good alternative way to travel from Taipei to Hualien, especially because the Suhua Highway (蘇花公路) can be easily damaged when storms hit and closed for days,” he said, adding that he would recommend the ferry to friends.
The Natchan Rera can carry vehicles.
“The boat is capable of carrying 798 people, including the crew, 18 large buses and 193 small cars,” said Winnie Lin (林渭清), the Natchan Rera’s chief mate. “We are not carrying cars at the moment because the car ramps at Suao and Hualien harbors are not finished, but they should be completed soon.”
Although the trip received mostly positive feedback from passengers, Hsiao urged the government to help to make a ferry service more accessible and affordable.
“At the moment, you can only book a ticket through travel agencies, but to make it more accessible to the public, tickets should also be sold at the harbors, so that anyone who wants to take a boat ride could buy a ticket and get on board,” she said. “The government should also subsidize the tickets so that people — especially Hualien residents — could use the service on a regular basis.”
An economy-class ticket from Suao to Hualien is NT$700 (US$23.5), while a business-class ticket is NT$1,000 and first class costs NT$1,500.
“It could cost tens of billions of NT dollars to build a highway, not including the costs for maintenance, but it costs much less — about NT$200 million to NT$300 million a year — to subsidize ferry tickets,” Hsiao said.
She said she would push legislation to turn the “blue highway” into a regular means of transportation.