Taiwan

Does Taiwan Have One of the World’s Best Metro Systems?

It’s no secret I’m a fan of Taiwan.
Huge, actually.

It wasn’t just one thing, or a few things, I liked about my first visit to the country. It was everything.

Granted I really only saw Tapiei, with a few day trips to Beitou, Jiufen and Shifen, I fell hard for the city, and by extension, the country.

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One of my favourite things about Taipei?
It’s metro system.

If you’re thinking, that’s kind of an odd thing to rave about- I’ve lived in cities, taking public transit daily for over ten years.

In New York, I appreciated how expansive the subway and bus systems were, but they’re also outdated and filthy. And in London, the metro may have seemed more efficient in comparison to New York, but there’s no arguing many of the train carriages and buses are run down.

Plus, there’s only air-con on a few lines, and presently, not on any of the buses. If you’ve ever spent time in London during an English heat wave, you know how brutal the Underground is.

And having travelled to over 50 countries on a budget travel ethos, I’m always checking out (and usually reliant on) a destination’s public transit options.

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Enter: Taipei.

I didn’t have any expectations for the metro, other than I would need to use it to get around. I understood Taipei would be a modern city, and from what I’d planned to do, knew I’d need to use the metro and bus systems to traverse one end to the other.

I wasn’t expecting such an excellent metro system though.

In fact, I think it’s the best I’ve seen anywhere in the world.

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It’s clean, efficient, orderly, accessible and affordable.

Not to mention, a breeze to navigate. If you’re visiting Taipei, all you need to do is use Google Maps for directions- so simple.

Clean: Never once did I see trash in the Taipei metro. You’ll be hard pressed to find street trash cans anywhere you go in Taiwan – they’re limited to encourage people to be mindful about waste – and, in a subway system, this could be a recipe for disaster. But, everyone is respectful- holding onto their trash until they have access to a trash can. It helps eating and drinking in public isn’t really socially acceptable in Taiwan.

No trash, and the platforms, stairs and floors all felt clean. I never saw anyone mopping, but I’m certain it happens since you won’t even find evidence of footprints in some of Taipei’s most trafficked stations.

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Orderly: One of my biggest frustrations living in NYC and London, and commuting during rush hour was always how chaotic the subway and buses were. Although Taipei’s metro is definitely busier during morning and early evening hours, it’s not really a burden.

Before you even board the metro, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Most stations have boxes drawn on the platform, which are meant to encourage people to line up. If the box closes to you is full, walk down the platform to the next one. This concept, while so simple, blew my mind. There’s zero pushing or shoving to get on the metro, and it’s simple for people to get off before passengers start trying to board. I’ve encountered so many delays at the sake of people getting on trains before allowing others off, I’m positive this measure helps Taiwan’s metro system run far more efficiently.

The metro is also stunningly quiet. People are respectful of each other. Conversations, if held, are done so at a low volume, and no one is bouncing around with portable speakers, blasting the latest hits.

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Accessible: Signs are displayed in English and Chinese, and announcements are usually made in both as well. Every station I encountered had options for escalators, lifts or steps- which means it’s easy for those with physical restrictions or disabilities to use the metro.

Speaking of accessible, most stations have bathrooms, which have both Western toilets and squat potties, and are seriously clean. Bigger stations also have breastfeeding rooms, which was surprising, but great to see.

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Affordable: With an average ride costing between $15-30 NTD, using the metro in Taipei should save you oodles over taking a taxi.  With an Easy Card, you’ll save even more travelling between metro lines or transferring from metro to bus.

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Sold on using the metro while in Taipei?

5 Tips to Keep in Mind for Using Taipei’s Metro System (MRT)

Operating hours for the metro are from early morning (most lines start around 5 am) and run late (usually midnight).

Metro lines are colour coded, and easy enough to understand. The bus system is a bit tricker, but just ask your driver as a way to double check destination before you get on if you’re unsure about which direction you need to head.

Both metro stations and bus shelters have down-to-the-minute time updates. And, both forms of transit are known for being punctual.

When using escalators, stand on the right and move on the left. This is followed so widely, it feels like it must be a law.

Priority seats are truly for the elderly, pregnant and handicapped. Do not sit in them. Even if there isn’t anyone on the train who needs them at the moment- you’ll be stared at if you sit in them, trust me.

When using the public buses, ask or gesture to the driver to figure out if you pay getting on and off, or only when getting off. Rules are different for each bus. It’s also helpful to watch anyone else getting on with you to figure this bit out. In metro stations, you’ll pay to enter and exit at turnstiles, so keep your card handy.

Visitors have a few options available to them for using the MRT- single ride tickets, a 72-hour pass or purchasing an Easy Card. I was in Taipei for over a week, so I purchased an Easy Card at Main Station after dropping my luggage.

Easy Cards cost $100 NTD, and then you need to add money to them to use them. Topping them up is easy at any subway station, and you can use them in many convenience stores to buy items as well. You can buy them at the info counter in metro stations, or from convenience stores, like 7-Eleven, Hi-Life and FamilyMart.

Also, Easy Cards don’t expire. So if you’re going to potentially visit Taiwan again, hold onto yours. If you want to get your money off it before leaving, take it to the info desk in a station. You won’t get the deposit back, but they will give you any remaining fare money.

Take the MRT into the city from the airport. Chances are you’ll be flying into Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport (TPE). If that’s the case, you can buy a single ride token (plastic, purple coins) or an Easy Pass and hop on the MRT into the city.

There are two services available, Express and Commuter. Both cost $150 NTD, but the Express service is 12-15 minutes faster than the Commuter one, so take that if it comes first.

Late night arrivals, no need to worry- there’s a bus that runs after midnight into Taipei’s main station.

When I left Taiwan, I headed to Seoul. And while, the metro there was okay to use (clean, affordable), it was nowhere near as great as the metro system in Taiwan.

Have you ever visited a city where you were surprised by something you never thought you’d care so much about, like a metro system? 

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