Transportation

Introduction

Generally speaking, one can safely say that Taiwan traffic has to be among the worst in the world. It is not just that roads are choked with too many cars, motorcycles, buses and trucks all competing for minuscule advantage. It is not just that there are not enough traffic police and they do not seem to give out tickets for anything but highway speeding (at least during those few hours every night one isn't gridlocked in the huge traffic jam called Highway around here). On top of all this, there is the Taiwanese – Confucian sense of responsibility to one's family and to hell with others. Traffic lights are reduced to mere points of personal reference, blinkers only have a decorative function on cars and motorcycles, the highway emergency shoulder becomes the fastest lane and if the traffic rules don't suit the circumstance of the person driving, they can be ignored. Be prepared for the worst, because travel within Taichung is no exception and it can be a dirty and frustrating business until you get the hang of it and develop the necessary attitude. Transportation for most students is limited to scooters, motorcycles and bicycles, buses and taxis (trains only run between cities).

Taichung City may be a confusing place at first; you may feel completely lost due to your initial illiteracy; you can only orient yourself using landmarks and it may seem to take forever before you get familiar with the city streets.

One way to overcome your disorientation is to frequently travel into areas new to you. Make creative use of the first few days after your arrival. You will have some time to go exploring the city, because you will probably arrive a few days earlier to register. Go downtown and hop on a strange bus on a weekday (Sundays after 12:00 is the worst) and just explore, or buy a map and take section by section tours by motorcycle or bicycle. Early Sunday mornings are excellent times to tour because the streets are relatively empty. City maps published by the Golden Apple Enterprise Co. Ltd. cost NT$ 60 (available at stationery stores and bookstores) and have a list of the bus routes, though in Chinese of course. Free maps and documentation are also available from the Tourism Bureau at 95 Gan-chen Street, Nantun (2254-0809/0800-422022). Maps of the bus routes are available at the bus terminals on Lu-chuan Road.

Some students prefer to get their own wheels as soon as possible, others prove that it is also perfectly possible to get around Taichung sans scooter. Quite a few people feel that scooters are an essential part of city life in Taichung because they are the fastest means of transportation, especially during rush hour.

That being said, all drivers must be very careful, continually looking in all directions, because the flow of traffic here simply flows in all directions. It will take a good amount of time to get adjusted to the occasional hectic or stressful traffic conditions.

There are some cases of road rage making headlines, so it may be additionally cautious to simply go with the flow as best as possible. It is very likely, however, that you'll have to use the bus at least the first few weeks.

Finding a place by an address can be difficult, unless you are familiar with the way the Chinese in Taiwan number roads and buildings. All buildings, though, have their complete address marked on the blue house number sign, so you don't have to walk to the next intersection to find out the street name as in most western countries. Addresses written in Chinese come in declining order of magnitude, roughly like this: country – city – district – road or street – road section – lane – alley – house number – floor – door number – company or person.

Roads are Lu, Streets are Jie. Many streets/roads are intersected by lanes – Xiang – and these may be intersected by smaller alleys – Nong. The streets/roads can be further divided into Sections – Duan. Buildings are numbered, typically, with odd-numbered buildings on one side of the road and even-numbered ones on the other. If a lane intersects the road between two buildings, the lane will be numbered as if it were a building. Likewise, small roads intersecting a lane will be numbered similarly. Sometimes, though, lanes are named by the road they intersect.

Introduction

Generally speaking, one can safely say that Taiwan traffic has to be among the worst in the world. It is not just that roads are choked with too many cars, motorcycles, buses and trucks all competing for minuscule advantage. It is not just that there are not enough traffic police and they do not seem to give out tickets for anything but highway speeding (at least during those few hours every night one isn't gridlocked in the huge traffic jam called Highway around here). On top of all this, there is the Taiwanese – Confucian sense of responsibility to one's family and to hell with others. Traffic lights are reduced to mere points of personal reference, blinkers only have a decorative function on cars and motorcycles, the highway emergency shoulder becomes the fastest lane and if the traffic rules don't suit the circumstance of the person driving, they can be ignored. Be prepared for the worst, because travel within Taichung is no exception and it can be a dirty and frustrating business until you get the hang of it and develop the necessary attitude. Transportation for most students is limited to scooters, motorcycles and bicycles, buses and taxis (trains only run between cities).

Taichung City may be a confusing place at first; you may feel completely lost due to your initial illiteracy; you can only orient yourself using landmarks and it may seem to take forever before you get familiar with the city streets.

One way to overcome your disorientation is to frequently travel into areas new to you. Make creative use of the first few days after your arrival. You will have some time to go exploring the city, because you will probably arrive a few days earlier to register. Go downtown and hop on a strange bus on a weekday (Sundays after 12:00 is the worst) and just explore, or buy a map and take section by section tours by motorcycle or bicycle. Early Sunday mornings are excellent times to tour because the streets are relatively empty. City maps published by the Golden Apple Enterprise Co. Ltd. cost NT$ 60 (available at stationery stores and bookstores) and have a list of the bus routes, though in Chinese of course. Free maps and documentation are also available from the Tourism Bureau at 95 Gan-chen Street, Nantun (2254-0809/0800-422022). Maps of the bus routes are available at the bus terminals on Lu-chuan Road.

Some students prefer to get their own wheels as soon as possible, others prove that it is also perfectly possible to get around Taichung sans scooter. Quite a few people feel that scooters are an essential part of city life in Taichung because they are the fastest means of transportation, especially during rush hour.

That being said, all drivers must be very careful, continually looking in all directions, because the flow of traffic here simply flows in all directions. It will take a good amount of time to get adjusted to the occasional hectic or stressful traffic conditions.

There are some cases of road rage making headlines, so it may be additionally cautious to simply go with the flow as best as possible. It is very likely, however, that you'll have to use the bus at least the first few weeks.

Finding a place by an address can be difficult, unless you are familiar with the way the Chinese in Taiwan number roads and buildings. All buildings, though, have their complete address marked on the blue house number sign, so you don't have to walk to the next intersection to find out the street name as in most western countries. Addresses written in Chinese come in declining order of magnitude, roughly like this: country – city – district – road or street – road section – lane – alley – house number – floor – door number – company or person.

Roads are Lu, Streets are Jie. Many streets/roads are intersected by lanes – Xiang – and these may be intersected by smaller alleys – Nong. The streets/roads can be further divided into Sections – Duan. Buildings are numbered, typically, with odd-numbered buildings on one side of the road and even-numbered ones on the other. If a lane intersects the road between two buildings, the lane will be numbered as if it were a building. Likewise, small roads intersecting a lane will be numbered similarly. Sometimes, though, lanes are named by the road they intersect.

Cars

There are four possible situations foreigners may find themselves in when wanting to drive a car in Taiwan.

  • If you have brought an international driver's license (and your local, because you need both for the first one to be valid) you can legally drive a car, though the local authorities prefer that you get a local license.
  • Holders of an International Driver's License are able to obtain an R.O.C. license upon presentation of that license together with their local license.
  • Holders of local licenses from certain countries are able to exchange their local license for an R.O.C. license upon presentation of their local license. You'll need two passport pictures, your Alien Residence Certificate original and copy, and your passport and a copy of it. After a medical examination (only eyesight, hearing, weight and height, don't worry) you can obtain the license by paying NT$ 200 as a processing fee. Nationals from the following countries can choose this option: Belgium, Bolivia, Denmark, France, Hong Kong, Hungary, Italy, Korea, Luxemburg, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Pakistan, the Philippines, Portugal, South Africa, Thailand, Vietnam and the U.S. states of Missouri and Oklahoma.
  • Holders of local licenses from other countries are unable to simply exchange their local licenses if they do not hold an International Driver's License. In this case, they will be required to go through the same testing requirements as a local driver. If you are not a national of the countries or states mentioned above, you have to go through the entire rigamarole of the system in Taiwan. This begins with a short physical exam, which tests your eyesight and hearing as well as measuring your weight and height. In Taichung you are able to do this at the testing center. Then, you have to take a written test. If you opt to take the test in English, you will face the questions read to you via computer. Many of the translations are suspect and the pronunciation is a challenge in and of itself. Finally, you have to drive through an obstacle course. This obstacle course includes backing your car into a narrow parking space, parallel parking and driving in and out of an S curve. Depending upon the mood of the examiner (and possibly other factors), this can be either a relatively easy exercise or one of complete futility and frustration. This exercise can set you back several hundred NT Dollars. The written and driving tests are NT$ 498. The driving test alone (if you fail it the first time) is NT$ 298.

Once you qualify for your license, you then pay a processing fee of NT$ 200, and they issue your license within about ten minutes.

In Taichung, this can all be done at one of two offices of the Department of Motor Vehicles. They are located at #2, Section 1, You-yuan Road, Da-Du Village, Taichung County (2691-2011) (past Tunghai University) or the second office of the DMV at #77, Bei-tun Road (tel. 2234-1103).

The Department of Motor Vehicles website has more detailed information concerning obtaining an R.O.C. driver's license.

Taiwanese driver's licenses are valid for six years, though the ones issued to foreigners are only valid for the length of their ARC.

You may be interested to note that students driving cars won't be allowed to park on campus.

Bikes

One-speeders are cheap and pretty darn convenient for running errands and enjoying the sunshine. If you buy a beat up used one, no one will steal it, though you are advised to lock it up whenever you park it. This mode of transportation is cheap, clean and slow. Cycling provides decent exercise, and a motorcycle-like ability to weave through congested traffic. The same rule applies here as for motorcycles: be very careful on a bike or you'll get knocked down and left in the dust. As to safety, it doesn't seem to be an unnecessary luxury to invest in some kind of light emitting or at least reflecting device; Taiwanese roads can be sparsely lit and oncoming cars and motorcycle won't notice you otherwise at night.

Since Taiwan is the second biggest producer and exporter of mountain bikes, you could buy yourself here a very high quality mountain bike if you're really into that. You could even ship it to yourself when leaving here. But don't get your hopes too high up about your bike arriving right away. Some years ago, an American student had to wait ten months for his vehicle to arrive in the United States. Second hand mountain bikes are harder to come across, but once in a while you will find ads at the Frog 1. For new ones, the most popular place seems to be Timothy's Bike Shop at #170, Dong-xing Road, (he also organizes some weekend trips, check out his Bulletin Board, and they have weekly gatherings on Wednesdays at 21:00) though there are numerous other shops spread all over town.

City Bus

Using the bus system is slower than using your own vehicle, but buses have the advantage of size in any street melee. Although crowded at rush hour and a little unpredictable, they only cost NT$ 13-20 per section, depending on the company. Try to avoid the typical rush hour times, plus when schools get out, unless you are endowed with an extra measure of oriental patience.

When you board, have exact change ready, and put it in the glass and metal contraption beside the bus driver. Be prepared! The drivers won't wait for you to reach a seat, they'll just go for broke. Occasionally, when someone else wants on your bus, that initial burst of speed will be followed by heavy braking; try not to fall on the old gentleman beside you. The same holds true for getting off the bus; brace yourself to avoid leaving via the front window. To let the driver know you want to get off at the next stop, pull the bell-chord under the overhead compartment.

While you're on the bus, you may see, and quickly become jealous of, passengers that merely swipe a card to settle their fares and consequently decide you want to join in on the fun. The E-card seen to the left can be used for various mass transports and will save you loads of annoyances. You only need to swipe the card once when you get on the bus and once when you get off; the total will automatically be deducted from your account. E-card sales and recharging locations are listed in the Contacts section. Our preliminary information shows the card itself is free of charge but we won't make any guarantees. According to our information, recharging can take place at any convenience store with an E-card mark or at the locations listed in the Contact Information section and the recharging requires a minimum reloading of NT$ 300 for ordinary passengers, NT$ 200 for children and NT$ 700 for passengers paying for a set period of time. The maximum recharge of NT$ 5,000 per payment and maximum card limit of NT$ 10,000 shows that some people must spend far too much time on buses. But now back to actually riding the buses…

Do not step off the bus without looking both ways for daredevil scooter drivers. They love to pass buses on the inside and will accelerate madly given any opportunity to do so; their minds miss the connection between stopped buses and the hazard of disembarking pedestrians. Or. . . close your eyes and try your luck.

The biggest problem with the bus system in Taichung is that the routes are not designed as a grid but as a star shape. To get from one arm to the next, though tantalizingly close, one must return toward the center of the star and then transfer to a new bus going outward. This can be time consuming. There are two bus companies in Taichung; the Ren-Yo Company has red buses and the Taichung Tong-lian Ke-yun company's buses are green and have a polar bear as their logo.

Going into the city and returning is easy, though rerouting (due to construction or festivals, etc.) and relocation of bus stops can prove worrying once in a while. Downtown buses from and to Feng-chia Road are the red #22 and #25 and the green #125. (See Map). The ride can take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes depending on traffic, which seems to be lightest from 09:00 to 11:30 and 13:30 until 17:00. Don't get on the green #22 when you're downtown – a common mistake – because you'll head for Tunghai University, on a different arm of the system, and it'll take you quite some time to get home (unless you get off and get a cab!).

Although the buses are frequent along the major lines, coming every ten minutes, the buses do stop running around 22:00. The last #22 from downtown runs at 22:20. At night you must rely on taxis.

Motorcycles & Scooters

If you've got a motorcycle (or a motor scooter) you can get around Taichung much quicker, but, of course, be aware that you're putting your life into your own hands each time you start the vehicle and very often also in the hands of fellow drivers with a very different concept of traffic rules and courtesy.

You can check out the numerous motorcycle/bicycle shops in the Feng Chia area or try your luck at the shops downtown, though it's my experience that the best bargains are to be found around the university. Most of them carry new vehicles, plus good, used ones that the shop owner will sell for a reasonable price. You could also check out the notice board at The Frog 1 pub or at other pubs that are frequented by foreigners. They usually have motorcycle-for-sale ads, because quite a few ex-pats advertise to sell their stuff there when they are planning to move. By the way, if you pay more than NT$ 8,000 for a used, not brand-spanking new 50 cc. scooter, you probably paid way too much. A 50 cc. motor scooter is all you'll need for cruising around the city. If you plan to take motorcycle trips all over the island, a water-cooled 125 or 150 cc. is a must. And as of 1 July 2002, you can buy whatever size you want, because the entry of the R.O.C. in the WTO means that it can no longer restrict the import of more powerful bikes as it did until then.

ScooterOnce you have obtained your resident certificate, you won't need a Chinese person to register the motorcycle, you can buy it under your own name then. All fines, plus the tax form, will automatically be sent to you too. It is for this reason that the Language Center Office cannot offer any assistance to its students when they want to register the motorcycle they bought. You will need to go through a Taiwanese friend who is willing to let you use his/her name for the registration.

Since 1 January 1997, motorcycle riders and their passengers are required to wear a helmet. In the typical Taiwanese way, the law got a six-month delay, but since 1 June 1997, police have been systematically setting up check points to reinforce the law. The fine for not wearing a helmet is NT$ 500 per person and in a very un-Taiwanese way, even as of now, police are still handing out tickets to people who fail to wear a helmet.

You need a driver's license for a motorcycle (at least if your motocycle is more than 50 cc.) and a different one for a car. For the former you have to take a practical test which is dead-easy. (See Cars section).

Since 1999, owners of motorcycles are required by law to take out insurance. If you buy your bike from a shop, even if it is second hand, the boss will normally be willing to help you with all the paperwork, including the license plate and the insurance.

If you want to find out more information about everything on driver's licenses, vehicle inspection or insurance issues, log on to the website of Motor Vehicles Office in Taichung. They even have an Online Motorcycle Driver License Test if you have to take the theoretical test.

Driving motorcycles into the campus is not permitted. Parking in the campus parking lot is the cheapest and safest option, but make sure to contact the reception desk to obtain a parking permit. Such a permit costs NT$ 300 for six months. The tag has to be stuck on your license plate and allows you to park your motorcycle on any campus motorcycle parking lot.

Try very hard to find out that the place where you park your bike overnight is a legal parking space, because otherwise there's the high chance it will be towed. In that case you'll have to get your registration papers and passport and make the trip to #300, Wen-xin South Seventh Road, and fill out some forms and pay some good money to get it out: for the first day, they charge you NT$ 150 and NT$ 50 is added per 24 hours. Downtown it is the safest to park your bike at the outer side of the sidewalk but not on the street, certainly not when it is for a longer time, because it is illegal to park your bike there, so you are very likely not to find it when you come back. If you want to find out whether your vehicle has been towed away or not, dial 2389-6405.

Although theft on campus is not really common, the guards at the Feng Chia parking lot advise you to use a padlock for extra security when you park your motorcycle there. Motorcycle theft has become pretty common island-wide, with hundreds of stolen bikes being transported to the huge new market in Mainland China.

Automatic motor scooters are the most popular and easiest to drive. Be careful when first learning how to drive it, though, because it gains speed very fast and is more powerful than you would initially think. If you haven't got the hang of it, you very well could end up knocking down an entire row of parked motorcycles as you let go of the brake! But, despite its power, learning to operate it only takes a couple of tries — it's pretty easy even if you've never driven a motorcycle.

Riding it through the streets of Taichung, however, is a different story. The way the Chinese drive is a major culture shock phenomenon for most Westerners. You will never comprehend why car, motorcycle, scooter and bicycle drivers do the things they do. Even if you keep your eyes on what's directly in front of you and drive at a reasonably cautious speed (about 40 k.p.h., the legal speed limit in cities, besides), you can't prevent someone else from acting irrationally. Car drivers will cut in front of you blaring their horns the entire time, expecting you to get out of their way, and you'd better. The far right lanes supposedly are only for motorcycles and bicycles, but a taxi or bus always sneaks through making driving a motorcycle all the more challenging. Watch out especially for the cars parked on the side of the street whose drivers whip open the doors without looking first to see who's coming. You'll have to slam on your brakes praying to God you stop in time to avoid being thrown over the door. In fact, get used to slamming on your brakes — you'll do it quite a bit while driving.

In sum, not driving at an excessive speed, keeping your eyes open extra, extra wide and cursing at the top of your lungs whenever someone unexpectedly pulls in front of you or does something stupid seems to be the best advice for operating a motorcycle in Taiwan. As a rule of thumb, the biggest vehicle has right of way.

Taxi

From downtown, a taxi may cost you around NT$ 200. When you first arrive, it's wise to carry a couple of hundred NT dollars extra with you when you go exploring. When you get lost or tired, you can jump in a cab. The flagdown rate these days is NT$ 75. During the weeks before and after Chinese New Year, cabbies can ask a higher fare.

Cab fares are not per person, so buddy up if you plan to go out; everyone can split the fare. Taipei taxi drivers are said to be notorious cheats (also dangerous if you're a lone woman; avoid hatchbacks, etc.), but Taichung drivers, by all reports, are trustworthy and well-meaning folk, though motorcycle riders may have a very different opinion. Taxis are usually clean, comfortable, and air-conditioned in hot weather. They're worth using, though sparingly.

TaxiRemember that most taxi drivers do not speak English (as most cabbies in downtown New York strangely enough don't speak too much Mandarin). At the beginning of your stay, it is a good idea to have the address of your destination and return address written in Chinese characters. We will give you a?little card at the Orientation Meeting so that at least you can get safely back to the University whenever you get lost and cannot find the right tone to say Feng Jia Da Xue . . . During rush hour and late at night, there is a 20% surcharge automatically added onto the meter. If the driver doesn't want to use the meter, for example on a holiday, you must negotiate the price before you begin your journey or look for another taxi. Some drivers around train and bus stations want to rake you over the coals. If you can't settle on a fair price, walk away from the station to the main road and flag a taxi there. Chances are the driver will agree to use the meter. All taxis are yellow to be more visible and the only way to tell a real taxi from a possible rip-off, is to have a quick look at the license plate: it should be red numbers on a white background, whereas all regular cars have black numbers on a white background. If you have the need, you can take a taxi from Taichung to anywhere on the island for a preset fee. A one-way trip to the international airport, for example, costs around NT$ 2,400.

Often it is difficult to hail a cab on a quiet street, and scary to stand alone waiting for a cab late at night. Rides from out of the way places and middle-of-the-night trips can be quickly and safely arranged through radio call cabs. You, or someone who speaks Chinese, call(s) the radio call company, and tells the dispatcher where you want to be picked up. While you hold the line, she tries to find a free cab in your area, and then connects you to the cab driver who will tell you his number (written on the back window, door or rooftop taxi sign) and how long it will take to get there. Always make sure the cab that stops in front of you has the right number before getting in. The cabbies are not employees of the radio call company, but pay the company a monthly fee for getting them rides.

Most dispatch taxis belong to one of the following companies:

Diyi 2321.8383 / 2327.8383 
Guotong 2375.8383 / 2376.6600 
Renren 2321.5757 / 2321.7163 
Yimei 2437.1000 / 2437.0002 
Yunglung 2375.1234 / 2375.1236 
Youai 2276.3456 
Fego 2287.8888

Long Distance

Bus

A fleet of deluxe highway buses make inter-city traveling easy and convenient. First, there's the government-run Guo Guang Hao buses which are reliable and comfortable. On the other hand there's a big number of, strictly speaking, illegal Wild Chicken Buses that run 24 hours, show a video — mostly violent Hong Kong-made kung fu movies, though that is slowly improving — and that provide fast transportation to the major cities (Taipei, Kaohsiung, Tainan).

You'll find their bus terminals really close to the government buses. The closest to Feng Chia University is the cluster of bus-stops along Zhonggang Road, in the Chaoma area, stretching from Henan Rd. to Zhaofu Rd. (see Map). Downtown they are located near the railroad station on Jianguo Road and Shuangshi Road. Most of the buses come with lazy-boy style seats with your own individual TV screen. Quite luxurious for a trip north or south. A trip to Taipei in one of these will set you back NT$ 300 to 350 one way.

After boarding, don't throw away your ticket stub, because you'll have to give it to the driver or conductor when you get off the bus, though so far no one has been able to come up with any kind of explanation that comes close to making any sense of this strange ritual. Government bus drivers, in particular can give you a hard time when you can't find it immediately. Most bus companies have a bus to Taipei every ten minutes between 05:00 and 23:00 and one every 20 minutes between 23:00 and 05:00. Buses to Kaohsiung run every half hour between 05:00 and 00:30.

Train

Taking the train is another alternative. It proves to be very dependable and the carriages often surprise you with their airplane seats and ample legroom. The train is a little more expensive than the bus, but it's more reliable and not too crowded — except on weekends, when you may have no seat unless you book one in advance. Some train rides in very old fashioned carriages take you through breathtaking scenery, such as the ride to Alishan, the mountain with its famous sunrise and Shuili, with its renowned snake-kiln. For ticket information you could use the site of the Taiwan Railway Administration, where you can log on to their Internet ticket order page they do indeed have an English version for foreigners that uses your passport number instead of the Taiwanese ID card number.

Good news for those that believe time is money. The Taiwan High Speed Railway Corporation marked a milestone in the island's transportation history when it completed the high speed railway in 2007. Its speed reduces the travel time from Taipei to Kaohsiung from four hours to less than 90 minutes. Slower trains, with four intermediate stops, completes the 345km island stretch in a level two hours. Trains on the northern portion of the high-speed rail line travels at 285kph, but maintains a speed of 300kph between Taichung and the south. A THSRC train can measure as long as 304 meters and carry 987 passengers when fully loaded. The entire train consists of 12 cars, the sixth car designated for business class passengers and the remaining 11 for economy class seats. One way ticket to Taipei costs around NT$ 700. It is strongly recommended to buy round trip tickets in Taichung as the ticket lines can get long in Taipei. This is a ride everyone must experience!

Flight

The Taichung International Airport is the third, and newest, international airport in Taiwan. It currently handles daily scheduled flights between Taichung and the cities of Taipei and Hualian, as well as the offshore islands of Penghu and Jinmen. International air services are expected to continue growing to include charter flights between Taichung and South Korea, plus special charter flights to other destinations and possibly to China.