City mulls more free rides for seniors

By Chen Hsin-yu and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Fri, Mar 09, 2018 - Page 4

New Taipei City’s Social Welfare Department said that it is thinking about expanding the range of services available on the municipal government-issued senior courtesy card to include free rides on Taipei’s MRT system and YouBike rentals, but funding could become a major obstacle.

Democratic Progressive Party City Councilor Cheng Yu-en (鄭宇恩) made the suggestion on Tuesday at a news conference in front of the Tamsui MRT Station.

The New Taipei City government recharges the senior courtesy cards with 120 points — or NT$480 (US$16.40) — every month, but they are restricted to use for bus rides, she said.

As of October last year, Taipei had expanded its senior courtesy card beyond buses and taxis to include the Taipei MRT system, the Maokong Gondola and select city-run establishments, with plans to include the YouBike service and tour buses at a later stage, Cheng said.

New Taipei City Social Welfare Department Deputy Director Lin Chao-wen (林昭文) said that buses are the most common type of public transportation in the municipality and its funding is limited.

Cheng rebuked Lin’s “limited funding” comments, and said that most elderly people would rarely use 120 points in a month.

According to records, New Taipei City has issued 390,000 courtesy cards, which cost it NT$2.19 billion per month, Cheng said.

The department last year received billing statements from public transportation companies totaling just NT$530 million, or 25 percent of points used, Cheng said.

It is unfair to compare New Taipei City with Taipei, Lin said, adding that there are obvious differences in how the two municipalities approach subsidies for the elderly.

For example, New Taipei City still issues between NT$1,500 and NT$10,000 in subsidies for the Double Ninth Festival, or senior citizens’ day, while Taipei has axed such subsidies, Lin said.

The department would look into diversifying how the courtesy card points might be used, Lin said, adding that no definite time line could be given.