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Taichung metro construction to continue amid concern

TAICHUNG, Taiwan -- Construction of the mass rapid transit system in central Taichung City will get underway next month as scheduled amid growing concern that the project could turn into another financial fiasco like the Kaohsiung Metro.

Days before the groundbreaking for the green line -- one of the four MRT lines to be built -- the severe financial bleeding incurred by the same public transport system in Kaohsiung City prompted many to have second thoughts about the costly project.

Some members of the Taichung City Council said city officials had made optimistic forecasts that the MRT project will generate a profit of around NT$200 in the first year of operation. However some new projections point to a possible loss of NT$900 million a year, they said.

They demanded that officials give a more accurate prediction that should include the worst possible financial scenario.

Mayor Jason Hu, one of the most popular elected local administrative chiefs nationwide, said the green line will be constructed with a budget of NT$51.39 billion, including the acquisition of needed land parcels.

This would translate into an annual cost of about NT$900 million a year, he said.

But the city government will make a strong effort with effective measures to avoid such a negative situation, Hu stressed.

Other city government officials said even if the green line incurs financial deficits at the initial stage, the overall economic benefits brought to the city and neighboring areas will offset the possible loss.

The S-shaped 16.7-kilometer line will cover 18 stations winding through major downtown districts and link up with Taiwan's major north-south transport arteries such as Freeway No. 1 as well as the rail services of the Taiwan Railway and the high-speed rail system.

While the green line is projected to be completed in 2015, the complete network of four lines is expected to help accelerate the development of the adjacent Taichung County and neighboring Nantou and Changhua counties.

Officials acknowledged that most residents in Taichung presently still choose to ride motorcycles or drive their own cars over taking public transport.

But Director Wen Dai-xin of Taichung City's Bureau of Transportation said the situation has improved significantly after the launch of Taichung Transit Jet (TTJ) Bus service that offers innovative incentives like allowing free rides on any of the city's 44 bus routes during rush hours on weekdays.

Those traveling on 75 public transit bus routes passing through Taichung at peak hours will also get a special discounted rate.

Such measures will not only promote energy conservation and carbon reduction but also help cultivate future customers for the MRT network, Wen said.

Officials in Taichung County also encouraged the construction of the MRT system to be undertaken without delay. They even called for the extension of the networks to other major metropolises in the county.

The city and county governments teamed up to successfully win approval from the central government to elevate Taichung City and County into a special municipality.

The MRT system in Kaohsiung, which started service in March last year, is currently losing NT$250 million a month. It is projected to lose NT$6 billion or 60 percent of its paid-in capital of NT$10 billion by the end of this year.

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