For decades in the UK, successive Governments have failed to back light rail schemes when local authorities have proposed them as solutions to their local transport needs. As a result, many local authorities (thankfully not Manchester) have shied away from proposing light rail schemes.
Since 2010 I have been the Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Light Rail Group in Parliament, whose purpose is to promote the benefits light rail schemes such as Metrolink to Government.
As part of this evidence gathering I have this week led a visit to Taiwan – seeking evidence to present to government that light rail can offer huge regeneration benefits in addition to the reducing congestion and emissions. The Capital, Taipei, has a hugely successful light rail scheme which carries up to 2 million people per day.
Taipei’s light rail system was the world’s most reliable for four consecutive years (and now is still rated in the top three). Through meeting with the people who planned, built and delivered the system we learned it has already taken a massive 30% of total journeys made off the city’s roads despite only half of the planned lines having been completed. And, once built, it is profitable despite charging fares from less than 45 pence. (Fares have also not risen in 15 years!)
Part of the success of the scheme is how everyone feels comfortable using it. Food, drink and chewing gum are not allowed – meaning it is clean and free from food smells. Even the plastic coin tickets are recycled!
Although Taipei residents were initially reticent to back the building of over a hundred kilometres of light rail, they now enthusiastically support and use the system due to its convenience. This has resulted in a tripling of land values around the stations and a significant increase where lines are built since the properties are now considerable more desirable. In areas of regeneration the benefits have been even more dramatic.
The success of the system, known locally as the MRT, is now a great source of great pride to Taipei’s citizens – offering architecture, leisure space and services, public art and so much more.
If the success, pride and profits were not enough, life expectancy is now 4 years greater since the MRT was built. Obviously there have been many other improvements in air quality – but taking 2m passenger movements per day off the roads has have a massive impact.
I would like to extend my thanks to everyone we have met in this friendly and fascinating country, particularly to the Government of Taiwan, who invited us to visit and funded our stay .