A Guide to Getting Around Taiwan

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One glaring difference between California and Taiwan is seen the use of public transportation.  In California, you see lots of empty buses, trains and rapid transit trains.  The Amtrak commuter system is rarely used.  Bus after bus passes by empty or with just a few seats being used.  Californians rarely travel by train. 
Of course, one reason that people rarely travel by train may be something like I experienced.  I was traveling to Northern California from Riverside in Southern California.  Because of the mountains near Bakersfield, there was a need to travel for a while by Amtrak bus.
So as I went to board the bus with my luggage the driver told me I wasn’t allowed to travel with luggage.  Yeah that works, if you have to stay the night somewhere, or are planning a stay for a while, I guess you have to wear all the clothes you’re you might need.
In Taiwan however, buses are full to overflowing, the MRT stations are crowded, and the trains are a popular way to get around.  It might be because the train system seamlessly connects with bus and MRT routes.  There are two types of trains local and express.  They’re inexpensive, clean and pretty comfortable.  A trip from Taoyuan to Taipei takes approximately 30 minutes.  There are bus stops and MRT connections (In the MRT Service area) at every train station.
 Because the buses and MRT are so frequent there is rarely more than a ten-minute wait, except during peak commute hours where buses are full.  In those cases you may have wait for a while to get on a bus.

The other nice thing about the system is that it can all be accessed with one card:  The Easy Card.  You can put an amount of money on the card at kiosks in the train station, 7-11 and other locations throughout the city.  In fact, the easy card can be used at a variety of shops and places in addition to transportation system  Here is a look at a small part of the system between Taoyuan City and Banciao.

Trains:

Passengers waiting for the train at the Taoyuan City station.  There are many users for the train.  People commuting to work into Taipei, can make a trip to the main train station in Taipei in about thirty minutes.

All of the train stations have a safe “waiting zone for female passengers at night.”  These are well-lighted areas with camera surveillance.  The trains run until late at night and sitting in a poorly lit, nearly empty train station isn’t particularly comfortable. The waiting area adds safety and comfort for female passengers.

Crowded trains mean that many people have to ride the train standing up in the aisle, so  handy grab rings hang from the ceiling.

Banciao Train Station.  In addition, to transportation services, there are shops, and restaurants in many of the large train stations.  There is an entire shopping mall underneath the Taipei Main Station.

MRT:

The MRT station is also clean and well lighted.  You can see the red lights in the platform at the center of the picture.  When the train is approaching the station the lights flash off and on, then remain on as the train gets closer to warn passengers to stand clear of the oncoming train.  Note the “rough tile” nest to the waiting line in the center of the photo.  This is to notify blind people that they’re too close to the track.

Buses:

People line up at Banciao train station to catch the bus where to where they need to go.  Buses run from here to almost every point in the city of Taipei.

Every bus is equipped with an Easy card reader, which automatically deducts the NT$ 18 (US$ 0.57) fare.

Disability Access:

This sign on the bus shows the different levels of accesibility available on the buses.  All the trains station make some provision for access.  There are elevators for going above or below the tracks to access different platforms.  There are even people who will lift wheelchair bound people in and out of the train.  One time a man wanted to carry me on his back out of the train, I declined however, for reasons of dignity.

The turnstiles at the Banciao MRT station are equipped for easy card access and you can see the turnstile at the far right accommodates wheelchairs.  All MRT trains are designed to have the floors level with the platform for easy wheelchair access.

All Photos by Emily Banducci