Residents in Taipei area joyfully celebrated yesterday the opening of the new Banqiao-Tucheng mass transit transport (MRT) line that conveniently connects county capital of Taipei County and Taipei City.
Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou and Taipei County Magistrate Chou Hsi-wei jointly cut the ribbon for the inauguration service at 1 p.m.
Premier Su Tseng-chang and top officials at the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) chose not to show up for the opening ceremony, although they were invited and promised to attend.
The 7.5-kilometer new line has six stations -- Yongning, Tucheng, Haishan, Far Eastern Hospital, Fuzhong, and Banqiao -- to connect the existing Xinpu-Kungyang line on which the Taipei City Hall station is located.
The new section is estimated to add 100,000 to 140,000 passengers to the Taipei MRT network everyday. There are 12 shuttle bus lines to help haul the passengers to the new metro stations.
It now takes only 25 minutes from Tucheng -- which has now become a household name after President Chen Shui-bian's son-in-law was detained for alleged scams at its Taipei Detention Center -- to reach the Taipei Main Railway Station, saving 30 minutes of traveling time.
Mayor Ma said he expects the daily MRT commuters will soon go up to 1.13 million from the current 990,000 per day.
In addition to providing cleaner, more comfortable, and more convenient transport services, the new line means that people now can travel between the Taipei City Hall and Banqiao, the seat of Taipei County Government, via the MRT system, Ma said.
It also opened a new era for greater "co-prosperity" between the city and the county as a lot of county residents have to go to the city for daily work and schooling.
Ma said the total length of the Taipei MRT system will stretch to 130 km with the daily number of MRT passengers rising to 3.6 million when several other metro sections are completed in the next 10 to 15 years.
Taipei County chief Chou said the latest public opinion poll conducted last week shows that more than 63 percent of the county residents back a plan to integrate the county and Taipei City while only 10 percent voice opposition.
For the city dwellers, 40 percent support the merger plan with 20 percent opposing.
The findings reflect the major trend toward merging the city and county because people in the Greater Taipei area recognize the fact that they have been sharing the same community, Chou said.
Before realizing the goal, Chou said he and Mayor Ma have agreed to step up cooperation for economic development as well as transport and administration matters to offer better services for the people and beef up overall competitiveness for the Greater Taipei area.
President Chen pushed for city-county integration when he served as Taipei mayor. But after he became president and Premier Su was elected Taipei County chief, they both wanted to keep the county independent from capital Taipei.
Chou included the integration plan as one of his major campaign platforms and was elected as new county magistrate with a landslide victory.