Taipei mayor threatens to fire officials over traffic jams

TAIPEI, Taiwan - Taipei City Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) had harsh words for his municipal team on Wednesday over recent traffic log jams, saying "If I fired a couple (of city commissioners), the others will fall in line."

Ko made the remarks to reporters during a scheduled meeting with borough chiefs. Responding to whether she was within Ko's crosshairs for removal, Department of Transportation (DOT, 交通局) Commissioner Chung Hui-yu (鍾慧諭) said that the decision on whether to remain or resign was hers to make.

The DOT also announced that fare hikes of NT$1 on city buses originally scheduled for March will be delayed until at least the middle of the year.

The capital's traffic woes have drawn widespread criticism in recent days with the mayor having promised to convene a special task force and dole out heavy fines for illegal parking and drivers who cross line limits at traffic stops.

Current traffic jams include roadways surrounding Taipei Main Station (Zhongshan North Road), and slowdowns due to sidewalk widening programs on Fuxing North and South roads, which have also affected Xinsheng South Road.

The mayor has come under criticism as his plans to expand Taipei's streets to pedestrians and bicycles have also increased delays due to narrower roadways. In an interview with Storm Media, Ko criticised the city's Department of Transportation for "not having adequately reflected" on its roadwork activities in building bike lanes.

Chung emphasised at a press conference that current traffic jams were largely generated by low temperatures and periodic rainfall, which she argued were unusual compared to the winters of the last three years. She added that rainfall for instance had resulted in more prevalent use of automobiles instead of scooters and had also contributed to slower driving speeds.

In response to remarks made by neighbouring New Taipei's Department of Transportation that the removal of Zhongxiao Bridge will cause an additional half an hour of travel time to enter the city from Taipei, Chung admitted that traffic routes near the bridge will likely be congested. She advised residents to use alternative routes or take public transportation.

The bridge is set to be demolished over an eight-day period from Feb. 7 to 14.

5-per cent Improvements: Task Force

Members of the city's special task force meanwhile stated that speed improvements of 5 per cent had been reported on the capital's 17 busiest arteries, (including Fuxing North and South roads). The task force also reported "improvements" of conditions on Tiding Boulevard, Roosevelt Road and Zhongxiao East and West roads. In addition, 3,221 traffic tickets were issued over the past two days for illegal parking.

In response to complaints generated by the slowness of the clearing of inoperable vehicles on the road, the task force has informed city traffic teams to accelerate the time frames in which they report, photograph and remove stalled vehicles. It also urged residents to take public transportation to areas likely to see congestion over the next few days leading up to Chinese New Year, including shopping malls, traditional markets, temples and city tourist attractions.