Newspaper reports say congestion on the Jhonghe (中和) Intersection of National Highway No. 3 (also known as the Formosa Freeway or, confusingly, the “Second Freeway”) will be significantly relieved following the opening of Provincial Highway No. 65 and the Tucheng (土城) Interchange.
The Syuejia (學甲) system in Greater Tainan was opened some time ago, and the Minsyung (民雄) Interchange in Chiayi County and the Tongluo (銅鑼) Interchange in Miaoli County will open soon. These projects are gradually forming a “convenient” system of an interchange every 2km or 3km. One can imagine how many people will be induced by this “convenience” to quit using public transport and drive their cars instead.
It is becoming more convenient to drive one’s car, and this has led to a fall in passenger volume on public transport. The companies that run public transport services have to make a profit too. When passenger numbers fall, so does their performance, so naturally they lose interest in running this kind of business. Service becomes less frequent, and this gives rise to a vicious circle as people are further deterred from using mass transit. As a result, the use of private cars grows rapidly.
At first glance, the government has succeeded in creating a convenient and wide-reaching round-island transport network, but at this rate how can Taiwan manage to cut its carbon emissions?
Another example of how policies are going backward is this year’s decision to halt services on the high-volume and highly efficient Kaohsiung Harbor railway. The authorities have decided to dismantle the railway line, which connects directly with the harbor, and convert it into a container-truck road.
How much cargo can a goods train carry, compared with road transport? Which one is more environmentally friendly, and how much more so? Any sixth-grader could tell you the right answer. So why on earth is the government abandoning an environmentally friendly railway, with its high transport volume — especially considering that this railway was already electrified — and replacing it with heavy trucks that will rumble through the streets of Kaohsiung, spewing black fumes wherever they go?
The authorities are also using the fact that the Kaohsiung mass rapid transport (MRT) system is underused to justify delaying construction of MRT networks in other places, but they have failed to thoroughly review the problem and create a well-integrated transport service.
How then are we going to get more people to ride on the Kaohsiung MRT? For example, people can hardly be expected to get off at the Cingpu MRT Station, which is not located near housing or shops, and then figure out their own way of reaching their destination.
The government should plan MRT systems and mass transport networks for all major conurbations. It should encourage city dwellers to get into the habit of using public transport. Among other things, this would help cut carbon emissions.
Beyond that, the government should plan branch railway lines that can offer an alternative to road transport. For example, a branch line could be built between the Fangliao (枋寮) railway station in Pingtung County and Kenting. That would allow people who want to visit Kenting to get there by fast and convenient rail transport and it would relieve the congestion that clogs the roads leading to Kenting on weekends and holidays.
The area around Kenting is a national park. Enabling people to go there by environmentally friendly and low-carbon means of transport would ensure that this scenic area remains well conserved and unharmed by human activity.
Teng Chih-chung is a director of the Railway Cultural Society, Taiwan
Translated by Julian Clegg
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