Minister of Transportation and Communications Hochen Tan’s (賀陳旦) proposal to reform Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) ticket prices was yesterday queried by transportation experts, who said he should ensure that there is a seamless transition between different transport systems and plan for the development of the public transportation systems nationwide before discussing lowering ticket fares.
Hochen revealed his plan to amend the Railway Act (鐵路法) in a recent interview with the Chinese-language Liberty Times (Taipei Times’ sister newspaper).
He said the Ministry of Transportation and Communications’ (MOTC) draft amendment would allow the TRA and other railway operators to charge passengers based on the train cabins they want.
Hochen said a railroad could divide cabins into business class, economy class and tourism cabins and set different ticket prices based on operational costs.
International visitors might be charged more on railway lines that are primarily designed for tourism, he added.
The Taiwan High Speed Rail system has business and economy-class cabins as well as different pricing for reserved and unreserved seats.
Lee Ker-tsung (李克聰), an associate professor at Feng Chia University’s department of transportation technology and management, said the ministry should focus on improving the quality of train services before deciding to impose differential rates.
“People are more likely to think that it is worth it if they pay 20 percent or 30 percent more to access a better service,” Lee said.
The Society of Railway and National Planning Taiwan also criticized the proposal, saying that the ministry should not focus on changing the TRA’s ticket scheme.
The nation has two main railway corridors, one on the west coast and the other on the east coast and commuters, homebound travelers and tourists access the same trains when they travel along those corridors, the society said.
People choose a train service based on time and what they can afford, it added.
The two coasts are also served by short-distance railway or bus systems, the society said.
It said that the MOTC has yet to integrate all the transport systems, and people need to search for information themselves, then book tickets through different ticketing systems and locate bus or train stations on their own.
As Taiwan has a good national highway network, there is a higher percentage of people who use privately owned vehicles for transportation, the society said.
“This also explains why traffic congestion has increased nationwide during major national holidays,” it said.
“People have to battle the traffic to reach their destinations. Many of the nation’s public transport systems are not financially sustainable because they cannot attract enough passengers,” the society said.
“The design of our public transport system is often out of synch with how the government plans the use of land. Even if the government could reduce public transport ticket prices and build more integrated systems, it cannot change the ‘status quo’ without a thorough national spatial planning strategy and accurate projection of the demands for transport systems,” it said.
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