Sunday, March 4, 2012

Taipei: Subway

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While Seoul's subway system began operation in 1974, Taipei's MRT only came online in 1996, but has had an enormous impact on the city's liveability, easing an unbearable traffic congestion problem and making a big difference in air quality. It has also spurred urban renewal, making outlying areas more accessible.

I stayed at the Happy Family Hostel (which I can strongly recommend for no-frills accommodation), located a two-minute walk from "Taipei Main Station". On my first morning, I was concerned by the many doors, hallways and staircases/escalators of what seemed a maze of a station; however, it was well-marked, and is besides an exception to the simplicity of most MRT stations, as it is the confluence of three lines, the main bus station, a shopping mall (Qsquare) and an underground shopping center.

I was surprised and charmed at my entry point to the station by this artwork:

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Artwork frequently adorns the exterior of such public spaces, but I can't remember seeing much of it on the actual subway platform before:

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While coverage of the MRT is still a bit sparse, they are working on it, with the brown line opening in 2009 and the Nangang Eastern Extension being completed last year.

It is also foreigner-friendly, with English everywhere, and video screens that give the arrival times in minutes of the next train, like I noticed in Shanghai. Most routes in Seoul now have a linear picture which shows the next arrival inching along the line.

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And, like any other big city, you can buy a "SmartCard" for about USD 3 and save a little bit on your fares--which are quite cheap at around 20 to 30 NT, where 30 NT (New Taiwan Dollar) is about USD 1.

Just like Seoul, the subway system is a key part of having a good experience in the city.

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