The City of Taichung opened the first true BRT system in Taiwan on July 27, 2014 after being delayed for political and funding reasons. The cost of building a Bus Rapid Transit is much less than building a heavy rail metro system, although Taichung’s master plan is have several BRT lines and an MRT (under construction).
Here is an observation on the system with its plus and minuses. The city created a dedicated lane for the BRT. The stations are built in similar fashion to each other mimicking a light rail station, complete with platform doors, ticket vending machines, and turn styles. The current route has 23 stations and takes it about 12 miles starting at the main train station to Providence University. Riding the whole it took approximately one hour. The problem is heavy traffic and poor timing of the traffic lights every time the bus reaches the station the light ahead is green, but once the bus drops off and lets on new passengers; then the light is now red. This makes the BRT slow when ever it reaches another station and another intersection. The city is working to sync the traffic lights linking buses with GPS and giving them priority at traffic signals. In the meantime, an hour to ride 12 miles is way too long. A non-BRT bus would be able to do the same trip in the same amount of time, but with more stops. This is why some residents of Taichung thought the BRT is nothing more than just a longer bus with an accordion in the middle.
There have been complaints about poor station designs that don’t allow disabled passengers to properly board. and Chinese made articulated buses that break down and eat a lot of gas. BRT news was covered on the news on several occasions, such as this report:
Another problem is entering and exiting the platforms. A passenger needs to first swipe their smartcard to board and then swipe again at the platform when leaving. This method delays the BRT when a platform is crowded with those who want to board and those who just got off and now need to exit. Each platform has 2 card readers, but when its crowded the line gets all queued and it becomes chaotic in such a compact and narrow place. Since the current phase is free until next August, its hard to say how the BRT fares will be calculated. Will fares be based on distance? The best thing to do is just charge one fare no matter distance and you’d only need to swipe your card once. The problem is the city tries to make the BRT like a subway station.
On September 21st, 2014 a typhoon dumped torrential rain across the island. As a result, a drain inside the bus created a mini geyser show for passengers as the BRT drives through big puddles on the road.
Update: On March 24, 2015 the City of Taichung announced that July 8th will be last service day for the BRT. Read more about it HERE.