There is an excellent editorial in today's Taiwan News about the need for better transport planning in Taiwan. The Taiwan News writes,
Although the huge annual pressure on our ground and air transportation networks is fully predictable and occurs during virtually all extended holidays, it appears that the government and the private sector remain unable to lift their eyes beyond these recurrent panics to engage in comprehensive reconsideration of our transportation policies and strategies.
Many people might think that traffic jams are an inevitable consequence of living in densely populated cities. It really doesn't have to be that way. The problem stems from the fact there is an over reliance on private cars and large highways. With the exception of the Taipei MRT, Taiwan's cities lack mass rapid transit or light rail systems that could move large numbers of people more safely and more efficiently.
The Taiwan News hits the nail on the head saying:
Taiwan's transportation system has become saturated with automobiles, thus fueling the expansion of roads, purchase of even more automobiles and insufficient investment and safer public mass transit systems, public buses and railways, which share the characteristics of being more energy and space efficient, environmentally friendly and far safer.
The failure to build a comprehensive network of passenger trains is now taking its toll in the wake of the epoch-making initiation of commercial operation of the Taiwan High-Speed Railway last month.
The opening of the high speed rail really highlights how poorly developed Taiwan's public transport infrastructure is outside Taipei. The HSR has the capacity to move large numbers of people between the major population centres on Taiwan's west coast. However, its efficiency is hampered by the time and inconvenience of travelling to the stations which are mostly located outside city centres and not yet connected via mass transit systems.
Aside from issues of safety and convenience climate change makes it doubly important to adopt innovative solutions. Again, quoting the Taiwan News editorial:
Although not a signatory, as a substantial member of the world community, Taiwan cannot avoid its responsibility and should accelerate efforts to sharply improve energy efficiency and curb the rise of greenhouse gas emissions to get ahead of what could be called the "Kyoto Curve" and thus improve our environment and enhance our overall competitiveness.
Just as in the case of industry policy, the need to improve energy efficiency and reduce pollution must become the key drivers of a sustainable transportation policy, an imperative which will necessitate the shift of priority from individual to mass transit systems including the development of commuter or light rail systems and ancillary networks in which our new high-speed rail sytem can effectively act as a "trunk" for the North-South rail link.
The HSR provides an ideal building block for the expansion of rail-based transport systems. The government needs to give higher priority to developing new MRT systems.
Another important decision the government must make in the near future is about the construction of the Suhua Freeway (蘇花高速公路) connecting Yilan and Hualian. The government really needs to consider not just the direct environmental impact of the freeway's construction. It also needs to think about alternative strategies, balancing the needs of people living on the east coast with the need to protect the environment. If the government can rethink the need for the freeway and offer some innovative alternatives it could set an example for the rest of Taiwan to follow.
Update: The Taipei Times has an editorial today questioning the need to build the Suhua Freeway. (added 10 February 2007)