I don’t usually like public transportation. But for some reason I liked the Taipei MRT, and I spent the next couple days in Taipei trying to figure out why exactly I liked the MRT. Here are my thoughts:
Things I like about the Taipei metro system:
1. Taipei is less extensively reached by public transportation than Japan, which makes it easy to find your station. I know that this sounds weird, but as a foreigner who is unfamiliar with the layout of Taipei, it was incredibly helpful to NOT have to search through hundreds of station names. Each station name is written in English and Chinese, with the price listed next to the name, and near the top; stations are listed in alphabetical order by their English name.
It really doesn’t get any easier than that.
2. The machine is specifically made so that you can easily get multiple tickets (if you’re travelling in a group). You just pick how much each ticket costs + how many tickets of that price you want (at max 10).
Tickets are only valid the day of, so you can’t hoard them. You can, however, buy an electronic card, charge it with money, and use that.
3. Tickets are cheap.
I mean, when you compare anything to Japan, it’s cheap. Even New York City metro tickets are cheaper. But Taipei? Cheapest I’ve seen so far.
For instance, one afternoon we went to Dansui, about 45 minutes away by train, with one transfer. A one-way ticket costs 35 Taiwanese Dollars or about 1.15 US$
I liked that. I liked that a lot.
In case you haven’t gathered from my previous blog posts, I like cheap things.
4. The “Ticket” itself is actually a plastic purple token, similar to the kind you can find at a cheap arcade. So it’s basically impossible to break them. When you pay, it spits out the token along with your change.
You then take the plastic token to the gate, touch it to the sensor, and walk in. Somewhere inside that plastic coin is a chip.
When you exit, you drop the token in the slot. If you put too much money on the token by accident (I did that once), then too bad. It keeps your change. But then again, as pointed out in #3, tickets are incredibly cheap. It’s not a big deal. I’m not actually sure what happens if you put too little money in the token.
Someone should find out and tell me.
5. Waiting lines are efficient. Granted in Japan they are also efficient, but Taipei had lines that you would wait behind.
And I don’t just mean a “waiting line” to stand behind. Every country has those [I think].
I mean they had legitimate, lines painted into the ground for people to stand it. There is no way to cut in line, even when you are boarding.
I mean that the whole metro system devised a system to help the traffic departing the train flow out and the people waiting to enter the train flow in at ease.
6. Aside from the rush hour at 5PM, it is rarely crowded. I like some crowds, like on Black Friday, at a concert, or during a party. I don’t like crowds on my trains or at my grocery stores.
I’m picky that way.
But for the five days I was in Taipei, the trains never got as crowded at the Chuo line I have to ride to get into main Tokyo.
7. The priority seats were really left for the priority passengers.
Priority seats were distinguished for being dark blue (as opposed to the light turquoise regular seats). And people honored the priority seats. For instance, if there was an old man sitting in the priority seat, and another seat opened up, the old man would move, opening up the priority seat once more.
Actually, to be fair, I don’t know how often this actually happens. But I saw it twice (once with an elderly man, once with a semi-elderly woman). I like to believe it happens all the time.
8. All the stations are called by both their Chinese name and their English equivalent. So even though I could “technically” read each stop (meaning I could recognize the characters, but not pronounce them in Chinese), it was nice to have the English there.
I’m selfish that way.
Then again, Japan also reads every station in English.
But, for some reason in Taiwan, barely anyone in Taipei spoke English. People were more likely to speak Japanese. In fact, when ordering food or asking directions, I just stuck to Japanese… which, now that I think about it, must have confused the heck out of a lot of people.
9. If you don’t feel like riding the train, or live far away from the station, taxis are incredibly cheap. I think most services in Taipei (unless they are a Western or Japanese import) are cheap. A majority of our taxi rides cost under 5 US$, for around a 20 min taxi ride. That’s pretty convenient.
However, as mentioned before, barely anyone spoke English. None of our taxi drivers did. We looked up where we wanted to go before-hand (or using Ryosuke’s iPhone at a Wi-Fi hotspot), wrote down the Chinese characters on a sheet of paper, and gave it to the taxi driver.
We never had any problems and we never got lost.
It was fantastic.
Final thought: I guess, now that I think about it, Japan probably has a more efficient railway system. However, the only comparison I have to Japan is New York – and Taipei was MUCH better than New York City Metro.
I just really liked the fact that the tickets were plastic tokens that couldn’t easily be lost or broken. I mess up my ticket all the time in Japan by sitting on it, accidentally folding it, or losing it (since it’s a tiny piece of paper). I didn’t have a single problem in Taipei.
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