On a recent trip to Taiwan, I was introduced to the Taipei MRT subway system. My “home” station was the Jiantan station, located across the street from the famous Shilin Night Market. This station was shaped like a boat, and as I would learn later, all the outdoor stations all had unique designs.
From the very beginning I was impressed. As you can tell from the map above, it is not a complicated system, with colors coordinating with the individual lines – something I think every metropolitan subway system has adopted. The numbers inside the circles located at every station is the cost in NT$ to go to that station from the one you’re at. The exchange rate is approximately 26-30 NT$ to one USD, so you can see it is pretty affordable to travel via MRT.
The ticketing system is a swipe-in, swipe-out system, similar to the DC metro. This is a distance/station based form of ticketing that charges more for longer distances. Instead of using paper cards (like WMATA) for single trip use, they used these plastic tokens that were embedded with an RFID chip.
We learned really quick that it would be more cost efficient to get the EasyCard. it worked just like the Boston Charlie Card or the WMATA SmartTrip. This was very efficient and I ended up using the EasyCard quite often during my two week stay.
One very cool aspect I immediately noticed was the platforms. Labeled very clearly on the platform was a “waiting line” and a pair of white lines indicating where the people about to board the train should wait.
I was kind of surprised that the subway system had trained it’s passengers to stand in lines, but sure enough, as the train approached, everyone stood in their lines. Now this type of queue system requires a few things: (1)trains that stop at designated points so the doors align with the waiting lines; and (2) passengers that see the efficiency of this line system in order to offload and load the train quickly.
Some stations even had these safety gates, these were the more popular stations, and I guess they may have had trouble with people falling on the track.
Every platform I went to had these TVs all over the place that displayed next train information as well as the local news. A nice distraction during the 3 minute wait between trains.
Getting on the train, I was very impressed with the layout. Train I happened to get on had a tv on it that streamed the news, with ample standing room.
The normal train cars kind of looked like this:
Some of the “high capacity” train cars were clearly made to hold tons of people, with hand-holds all over the place.
Overall, this subway system is by far the most advanced system I’ve been on. It connected all the key parts of the city and was very user-friendly. All the signs were in both chinese and english pinyin, making it easy for foreign travelers to get around. I learned later that the EasyCard was accepted at convenience stores and other stores. This may be the best subway system I’ve been on and I’d highly recommend using it if you visit Taipei.
More on Taiwan to come!