In 2006, Kaohsiung City recorded a paltry 4.3 percent share for public transportation usage. In the years since, the Kaohsiung City government launched an ambitious plan to increase ridership in Taiwan’s second largest urban area. To reform its transportation system, Kaohsiung employed a “give first, take later” strategy. The city engaged in a comprehensive effort to deliver new pubic transportation options while upgrading and enhancing the efficiency of existing services. Once a culture of public transportation ridership is firmly established, the government will begin to implement policies to discourage specific private transportation options.
The aspect of Kaohsiung’s transportation upgrade that has been drawing the most attention is its ultra-modern mass rapid transit (MRT) system. Opening in March 2008, the Kaohsiung MRT is Taiwan’s second urban subway system. The KMRT currently comprises two lines running along a horizontal-vertical axis, encompassing 36 stations and 42.7 kilometers of track. Paralleling its MRT development, Kaohsiung added hundreds of buses to the road, doubled MRT shuttle bus connectivity, and acquired 100 low-floor buses for wheelchair passengers. Kaohsiung also promoted alternative fuels as a means to improve fuel efficiency in the city’s municipal fleet. Kaohsiung is the second city (after Kyoto, Japan) to require its entire public bus fleet to use a biofuel-gasoline blend. In 2006, the Kaohsiung City government unveiled a test project to convert all of its garbage trucks to run on biodiesel. Kaohsiung also recently unveiled six hydrogen buses—a number that the city looks to increase in the near future.
In a country where there is nearly one motorbike for every two people, Kaohsiung has 766 motorbikes for every 1,000 city residents. To get citizens off their motorcycles and scooters, Kaohsiung instituted Taiwan’s first urban bicycle rental program. Kaohsiung’s City Public Bike (C-Bike) program includes 4,500 bikes at 50 rental locations. Bike rentals through the program aren’t free, but the government offers subsidies to encourage citizens to use the city’s more than 150 kilometers of bike paths (the first-of-their-kind in Taiwan.) Kaohsiung’s efforts have led CNN to name it the third most bike-friendly city in Asia.
For citizens who will continue to rely on motorized transportation, the city has offered generous incentives for clean vehicles. The Kaohsiung government is offering a NT $25,000 (US $845) subsidy to buy electric motorbikes and a NT $10,000 (US $338) subsidy for the purchase of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) vehicles. These financial incentives, in addition to existing central government subsidies, are aimed at removing an estimated 300,000 old motorbikes from the road.
Kaohsiung’s efforts to overhaul its public transportation system have already yielded encouraging results. According to the Kaohsiung City Transportation Bureau, the city improved its public transportation share to 10.8 percent in 2010, and its monthly record high (12.5 percent) is approaching the government’s short-term goal of 15 percent usage. It is also clear that the government’s efforts to improve Kaohsiung’s transportation system are winning public approval: in a July 2010 survey, 82 percent of Kaohsiung residents reported satisfaction with the city’s overall transportation infrastructure.
Recent progress aside, Kaohsiung faces several financial challenges. The city’s MRT system is steadily losing money and will lean heavily on government subsidies for the foreseeable future. Kaohsiung’s C-Bike program also lost NT $500,000 (US $16,892) a month in 2009 and statistics indicate that rentals are used primarily for leisure rather than a viable transportation alternative for commuters. Despite Kaohsiung’s financial concerns, the city is pressing ahead with public transportation expansion. The Greater Kaohsiung Transport Policy White Paper highlights several proposed measures to deploy more hydrogen buses, solar-powered bus stops and electric vehicle (EV) charging stations. In addition to MRT expansion, increased effort will be made to integrate the city’s future MRT, light rail, bus rapid transit, and shuttle bus systems.
For more information on Kaohsiung’s sustainable urban development, check out my blog: http://taiwansustainablecities.blogspot.com/2011/01/kaohsiung-taiwans-eco-city-leader.html