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May 26, 2017

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Dragon Boat traffic causes bottlenecks

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Traffic conditions on the nation's freeways hit bottlenecks on Thursday as vacationers took to the roads to celebrate the extended Dragon Boat Festival weekend holiday. Government figures estimate that more than 2.6 million vehicles used national highways, a 5-percent increase from 2015.

Drivers were greeted with clogged portions of southbound traffic on National Highways No. 1, 3 and 5 early Thursday morning, which saw bumper-to-bumper conditions throughout Taiwan, including the areas around Taipei, Taoyuan, Changhua and Kaohsiung as well as eastbound flows toward Yilan.

Traffic volume on freeways is expected to remain in the range of 2.6 to 2.8 million vehicles on Friday, with authorities encouraging travelers to avoid delays by using public transportation.

Off-peak Volume Surges Despite New Policy

Despite a changed traffic management policy which saw the cancellation of toll-free travel during off-peak hours in the middle of the night, government statistics showed a 20-percent increase in traffic from 11 p.m. Wednesday to 6 a.m. Thursday compared to last year. An estimated 365,000 vehicles used the highways during this time period.

The Transportation and Communications Ministry had announced the move as a means of curbing accident rates during off-peak travel times. And while accident rates dropped slightly despite an increase in traffic volume, drivers experienced substantially longer journeys, including four-hour trips from Taipei to Taichung and three hour drives from Taipei to Miaoli, double that of normal conditions.

Adding to misery and delays were rear-ending accidents in Fengyuan and Kaohsiung, the latter involving 14 vehicles and causing backups of 8 kilometers. Three people were sent to a local hospital after sustaining non life-threatening injuries.

A Passing Grade?

Premier Lin Chuan (林全), who surveyed traffic conditions from his official vehicle without cordons on his way to a government traffic command center in the morning, was roundly criticized by angry travelers for calling conditions on National Highway No. 1 "smooth" despite some waiting on on-ramps.

The premier later stated that delays and congestion were not necessarily linked to the government's policy of curbing toll-free nighttime travel, indicating that some stretches (such as Yangmei to Hsinchu) have traditionally experienced bottlenecks.

Transport Minister Ho Chen Tan (賀陳旦), who characterized the holiday traffic issue as a three-part exam including accident rates, whether off-peak volume would be transferred to daytime travel and public transit's role in reducing reliance on freeway usage, stated he had "passed" half the exam thus far.

Ho Chen stated that despite the increased volume of nighttime travel, accident rates dropped slightly. With respect to whether de-incentivizing off-peak travel had increased volume during the daytime, the transport minister said that up to Thursday afternoon, "traffic conditions have not worsened." He admitted more "advanced time" was needed to encourage travelers to look into public transport alternatives in the future.

The premier has instructed transport officials to look into relieving existing bottleneck conditions, according to Cabinet spokesman Tung Chen-yuan (童振源).

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