MOTC proposes foreigners pay extra for Taiwan Rail tourist routes

Taiwan's Ministry of Transportation and Communications suggests to raise prices for Taiwan Rail tourist routes

An old Taiwan Rail train. (By Central News Agency)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News)—The minister of Taiwan’s Ministry of Transportation and Communications Ho Chen Tan (賀陳旦) proposed to charge foreigners taking tourist rail routes to visit scenic areas in the country to pay higher train ticket fares in the future on Monday.

The suggestion is part of MOTC proposal to change Taiwan Rail ticket pricing system by charging different rates for various rail routes, and introduce new compartment rates.

As part of the new rail infrastructure upgrade, the MOTC is considering amending the Railway Act, and charge ticket prices based on operation costs and rail functions, said Ho Chen.

Taiwan Rail trains ticket prices have remained stagnant for 20 years made the rail line rather unprofitable, ticket prices reach nearly only 50 percent of operation costs, said Ho Chen.

The High Speed Rail for instance charges NT$4.39 (US$0.14) per kilometer (km), but the Taiwan Rail’s fastest train Tze-Chiang Limited Express (自強號) charges nearly half the rate of NT$2.27 per km.

The current Taiwan Rail pricing scheme is inflexible where the express train is charged a single price depending on the distance it covers.

It was a rare occurrence that Taiwan Rail reported its first profitable fiscal year in 2016, due to fewer retiring employees resulting in lowered pension payments, reduced debt, and better management of its urban commuting lines, explained the minister.

The ministry is evaluating whether to make new price adjustments in Taiwan Rail pricing system in the next three months, and said price hikes would be gradual for common commuters of the rail line.

The minister recommended Taiwan Rail introduce business and tourism compartments that will be charged more expensive rates than average compartments.

The ministry is also considering to make international visitors pay a premium ticket price compared to domestic passengers if they take tourism rail lines that pass through Jiji (集集)Train Station in Nantou County, Pingxi (平溪) in New Taipei City, or Neiwan (內灣) Line and other branch lines.

Other routes included in MOTC tourist route assessments include the Eastern Line and South-link Line.

The Tsai Administration approved a stimulus of around NT$424 billion for some 38 rail infrastructure projects on March 24, 2017 that takes up nearly half of the NT$880 billion to be set aside to update important country infrastructures.

Rail infrastructures are expensive to construct, most metro rail system pricing is based on costs.

If rail lines are to be viewed as a public infrastructure and public service by the people, who are demanding to decrease price differences among different rail systems, then the ministry might consider subsidizing light rail lines and metro lines in the future, said Ho Chen.

The MOTC and Taiwan’s local governments should discuss how to price different rail lines in accordance to its function.

In contrast, the Taiwan High Speed Rail Company will be transformed from a private company to a state-owned company in the near future, which could lead to potential ticket price cuts in the future, but will require further evaluation and discussions, said Ho Chen.