The Taipei subway system is as easy to use as Metrorail is not. I estimate it to be slightly larger than Metrorail. We used the system every day we were there and, after watching my wife use it once or twice, I was confident I could easily navigate anywhere in the system.
No Chinese-language knowledge was required. English was an easy option to choose [at the fare machine]. From then on, there was an automated voice tutorial walking me through the process, which involved few steps: insert my credit card, choose how much to put on my pass, and out spits the plastic pass card. There were no rush-hour or weekend fares. It’s the same rate all day while the system runs.
There is no paper fare card option, so there are no slots in which to insert cards at the gates. All gates read the cards in the same way as the Metro SmarTrip card does. Your card connects seamlessly with the bus system, as there are card terminals as you get on the bus.
To be fair, the Taipei system was built in the late ’90s, but I don’t see any reason our system can’t adapt and operate as theirs does. On a side note, the overhead announcements in Taipei were loud and clear, as opposed to mumbling that is overridden with background noise, as on Metrorail.
Why does Metrorail have to be so complicated? If I, an American in a foreign land, can pick up on Taipei’s system so easily, why can’t we emulate that and make it easy for everyone, no matter where they’re from?
We have a nice-looking system that has a well-planned route structure. But for all the irritants of Metrorail, the Taipei system (a true self-service system) puts it to shame.
— Allan F. Cobb, Rockville
DG: I often benefit from the perspective of well-traveled Washingtonians who can compare our transportation network with others. Services that Cobb praised in the Taipei system were areas of concern among Metrorail riders commenting on my column.
They focused on the fare machines that gave letter writer Warren Emerson of Arlington County such a hard time. Many of them see Metrorail as a system designed by engineers for use by other engineers.
I get that feeling sometimes when trying to add value to my SmarTrip card. I figure if I can follow the steps in adding one $20 bill to the card, I probably can qualify to pilot a moon rocket. But don’t ask me to add a pass to the card. That would qualify me for the Mars run.
The most common complaint I heard was about forcing the rider to do the math when calculating the cost of a trip to a particular station — and perhaps back, if that doesn’t prove too much of a mathematical adventure.