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August 17, 2017

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Traffic nightmares plague Taipei

Flood-ravaged Taipei, with its Mass Rapid Transit System damaged, was a nightmare to commuters who were caught in heavy rush-hour traffic yesterday, the first working day after Typhoon Nari's attack.

All bridges linking neighboring areas to Taipei were already clogged by traffic at about 7 a.m., with motorists describing the capital city as one big parking lot.

A trip downtown from suburban Taipei would normally take more than 50 minutes, and many started at 7 a.m. from Tamshui. Ninety minutes later they found themselves still stalled on Tatu Road, the artery linking Tamshui to the capital city.

An official with the Foreign Ministry said it used to be a 20-minute ride from his home to his office near the Presidential Building, but yesterday it took him more than an hour.

Apparently many ended up late for work and school.

Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou was among the victims. He had to take a bus ride from City Hall to the Executive Yuan building, and he looked very grim along the way watching the nightmarish traffic conditions that he had to tackle.

It took the mayor 48 minutes to complete a trip that would have taken only 13 minutes by MRT.

Extra police were dispatched to conduct traffic, which plunged into chaos thanks partly to a large-scale power outage in the city that put out many traffic lights. But serious damage to the MRT system should take most of the blame.

The metro system, which had become the heart of the city's transportation before its major lines fell victim to Nari, could only maintain partial services, only running from Tamshui to Chientan, Chungho to Kuting, and Hsintien to Kuting.

Mucha Line was the only one that remained fully operational.

Police said the suspension of MRT services forced many commuters to drive to work, greatly increasing the traffic volume.

The city government arranged shuttle buses to link up its still operational stations, but people either did not know which bus to take, or simply were unaware of such services.

The shuttle buses were almost empty. Incredulous that the MRT fell victim to flooding, some passengers said they left home 40 to 50 minutes earlier than usual and missed the comfort of the metro.

At regular bus stops, many people waiting restlessly for buses a long time failed to catch one.

"(I) will definitely be late for work waiting here like this. Damn it, Nari," murmured a disgruntled man having waiting for a bus for over 30 minutes.

There were other options: taking a taxi, which was expensive, or riding a motorbike, the choice for many in the pre-MRT years. The number of motorbikes on the road obviously increased yesterday.

And the nightmare promises to last for another six months.

The MRT company said water should be completely pumped out from the flooded stations and tunnels within a week, with help coming from the military, which has called in its troops to help drain water and clean up mud.

But it would take six months to repair the MRT system and resume full services, the company estimated.

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