The Taipei City Council in 2018 launched a monthly transit pass to boost the number of passengers on public transportation. Two years later, the program’s promise to increase ridership remains unfulfilled. Recurring debates in legislative budget sessions are threatening the monthly pass’s existence.

Controversy erupted again last week when Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je questioned whether monthly pass users abused the discounted system. What the government failed to discuss, though, was the monthly ticket price at NT$1,280. It simply fails to win over new passengers.

The average motorcyclist spends about NT1,000 (US$30) a month on commuting, according to a 2019 report from National Taiwan University’s Advanced Public Transportation Center. This means the current NT$1,280 transit pass requires motorcyclists to spend an extra NT$280 to commute via public transit.

Travel by motorcycles often can take less time than public transit. While some may be willing to change their habits for the environment, monthly costs and time are the primary deciding factors for many commuters. Policymakers should not be surprised at the low conversion rates of the Taipei transit pass.

Nearly 40 percent of daily commuters in the Taipei metropolitan area use personal motorcycles, compared with the 30 percent who use public transit.

The transit program, named “All Pass Ticket,” follows an existing model used in other cities such as the “30-Day Unlimited Ride MetroCard” in New York and the “Navigo” monthly pass in Paris.

Included in the monthly pass are unlimited rides on Taipei Metro and buses as well as free 30-minute access for each YouBike ride. It can be purchased and loaded onto the ubiquitous EasyCards or the recently released EasyWallet app.

Monthly pass users on average get an NT1,600 value from the NT$1,280 spent on the ticket according to the section chief of Taipei City’s Department of Transportation Liao Yuan-ling (廖苑伶). This shows at the very least the pass has succeeded in providing value to existing passengers who use the pass and can incentivize more frequent transit use among these users. However, the program has only brought a 3-percent increase in riders. This has given ammunition to some legislators, such as Taipei City Councilors Hsu Chiao Hsin (徐巧芯) and Cindy Wang (王欣儀), who view the benefits of increased ridership among existing users not worthy of the heavy government subsidies.


Photo Credit: CNA

Passengers on Taipei's MRT, June 3, 2020.

To convert non-transit users, we need to examine how they justify the costs of their daily commute.

S.K Jason Chang, a co-author of the NTU report, proposes that at the very least the monthly transit pass needs to equate the cost of commuting by motorcycle.

For instance, a memorable price point such as NT$888 for the transit pass would save motorcyclists an average of NT$112 for switching to public transit and could cause a significant shift in behavior over time.

This behavior shift could end up benefiting the government in the long run by reducing the high external costs of air pollution and traffic congestion that too many private vehicles contribute to in Taipei. A competitive price would show better results than asking people to pay more to change their commute routine.

In less than 25 years, Taiwan has invested tens of billions of dollars in building a world-class metro system and bus lane network in greater Taipei. The investment has completely transformed the public transit experience. Taipei Metro has become an integral part of Taipei’s culture and in the future has the potential to take even more commuters off the road.

For the region to get the biggest monetary returns and environmental benefit from their investments in new MRT lines and extensions, both cities need to work together to get the price right.

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TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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