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Maokong gondola eyeing Hello Kitty endorsement

TAIPEI -- Urbanites looking to escape the city for quiet hillside teahouses via the Maokong Gondola will soon find themselves joined by an endearing travel companion: Japanese cartoon icon Hello Kitty.

The beloved cartoon cat will adorn the gondola lift's 145 carriages and four stations starting Friday, a move which operator Taipei Rapid Transit Corp. (TRTC) hopes will stem the continued revenue losses incurred by the system since 2010.

As celebrity endorsements go, Hello Kitty is a good match for the removed district of southeast Taipei, known for its copious teahouses and rural charm, because the name Maokong literally means “cat space.”

TRTC said the decorations will be up for a year under its Hello Kitty-centered campaign, which will lift off with a garden party this weekend. Free rides on the gondola lift will be offered to some 300 “disadvantaged individuals,” said Ling Chi-yao, chief of TRTC's Media Relations Section.

The company is holding out hope that Hello Kitty will give a much needed boost to the 4.03-kilometer-long gondola line, which has lost NT$360 million (US$12.2 million) due to low ridership and high maintenance costs since it reopened in 2010.

The Maokong Gondola suspended operation in late 2008, just one year after it opened, after the foundation at a support pillar was damaged during a typhoon.

Service resumed in 2010, but low public interest has left it unable to recoup losses.

A full fare ticket costs NT$50 for a one-way trip on the elevated gondola line, which takes about 25 minutes to get between the terminal stations at Taipei Zoo and Maokong, a height difference of 275 meters.

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A man boards a Maokong Gondola carriage adorned with Hello Kitty decorations in Taipei, yesterday. Decorations depicting the Japanese cartoon cat will adorn the gondola's 145 carriages and four stations starting Friday, said Taipei Rapid Transit Corp. (CNA)

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