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Taichung's BRT system wins central support despite policy U-turn

Taichung's BRT system wins central support despite policy U-turn

Taipei, March 23 (CNA) The Transportation Ministry said Monday that it remains positive about the future of Taichung's controversial bus rapid transit (BRT) system following a decision by the local government earlier in the day to convert the BRT lanes into dedicated bus lanes that can also be used by normal city buses. The NT$188 million (US$5.9 million) in subsidies already in place to help with related facilities will not have to be returned to the ministry, said Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) official Hu Di-chi (???). "As long as Taichung remains on track to promote public transportation, the format which the BRT adopts does not make much difference," Hu said. Taichung Mayor Lin Chia-lung (???) announced that the BRT, which began commercial runs last July, will be combined with regular bus systems from July 8 to allow "more effective public transportation use." The decision means that BRT lanes and stations along Taiwan Boulevard, subject of heated debate among candidates in the November 2014 local government elections, will no longer be exclusively reserved for the BRT's 2-carriage buses. The policy shift will save Taichung some NT$28 billion, while an additional 580 bus services that originally traveled on the road section but were cut because of the launch of the BRT will go back into operation, Lin said. That will bring the total services to 1,000 per day, reducing waiting times for each bus from five to 2.5 minutes, according to the Taichung city government. Regardless of its type, traveling on a Taichung bus will be free for the first 10 kilometers instead of the current 8 km, it added. The flip-flopping BRT system has drawn heavy criticism since its launch. Lin has said that the Taichung system does not meet the standards of a proper BRT, which is usually composed of stations, a ticketing system and a traffic control center. In terms of the control center, the BRT in Taichung has only a temporary one for the single line in operation, and even that line is not complete, Lin said. The Taichung BRT, conceived under then-Taichung Mayor Jason Hu (???), was intended to be an integrated system of six lines. Lin, who was a legislator at the time, said the system was not yet ready for operation and that Hu had rushed it through as a tactic to woo voters in his re-election bid. Shortly after he was sworn in, Lin assembled a taskforce to examine the BRT's problems. (By Kuan Jui-pin, Sunrise Huang and Lee Hsin-Yin)