Post by Nick Chu
The Maokong Gondola (Taipei, Taiwan) announced last December its intention to raise fares in the new year. These plans were officially confirmed by the city government in a news release this week.
Depending on the number of stations a passenger travels to, fares will increase by 130-150%. This might sound like a lot, but in reality the fares for a 1, 2 and 3 stop ride will be raised to US$2.10, US$3.00 and US$3.60 from US$0.90, US$1.20, and US$1.50 respectively.
While the gondola is owned and operated by the Taipei Rapid Transit Corporation (TRTC), the system is hardly a commuter system. Rather it’s ranked as one of the top tourist attractions in the Taiwanese capital and therefore, in our opinion, a fare hike was justified.
To perhaps curb local backlash, the TRTC offered a ton of discounts clearly aimed at dinging the tourists while saving locals money (1. EasyCard holders receive US$0.60 discount; 2. seniors, children, physically challenged, Taipei residents, and indigenous people receive US$1.50 discount; 3. local residents from nearby boroughs of Zhinan, Laoquan, Zhengda, and Wanxing can enjoy unlimited rides at US$1.80).
Related new articles appears to indirectly confirm my suspicions as operators realized that >60% of passengers were foreigners/non-Taipei residents! However, from a purely economic standpoint, the fare hike makes sense since the system lost US$3.0 million last year despite a ridership of 2.66 million. Readers would be hard-pressed to find another cable car in a similar money-losing situation.
For us that live in the West, a publicly-owned transport line that loses a couple million a year might not be a big deal (i.e. transit is supposed to be a social service), but this mentality does not hold true in many countries where transit is regarded as a profitable service. If we were to use TRTC’s farebox recovery as a barometer to gauge the city’s tolerance to a perpetual money pit, there likely isn’t much more patience for the gondola’s financial failures.
While some critics still worry about the effects this will have on ridership, my guess is that its impacts will be limited. Price conscious visitors will quickly learn just how much of a bargain the gondola is once they compare it to other attractions.
In fact, if you look at other comparable cable cars in the world, a 4.0km, 35 minute aerial gondola ride at US$3.60 with sweeping views of lush greenery might very well make the Maokong Gondola the “best valued” cable car in the world.