Fast and easy to use, the Taipei MRT makes Taipei city one of the easier Asian capitals to navigate. Another cool bonus of MRT travel is that every station has bilingual wall maps pointing out the neighbourhood’s attractions. Compass-toting travellers beware, for whatever reason, some stations have maps in which south is facing upwards. Make sure to line their north arrow with that of your compass. In addition to operating the MRT, the Taipei Rapid Transit Association (TRTA) also runs many of Taipei’s public bus routes and private bus lines that crisscross the city. Nowadays most buses have English as well as Chinese route signs. You can find fares, route maps and lots of other information at www.dot.taipei.gov.tw.
Having already mentioned just how much Taipei transport has improved thanks to the MRT, we can skip the additional praise (deserved though it is) and get down to brass tacks.
The ever-expanding Taipei MRT pretty much goes everywhere you want to get to. Trains are comfortable and you can usually get a seat except during peak hours. Signage is bilingual and announcements are actually quadlingual (all stations are announced not merely in Mandarin and English, but in Taiwanese and Hakka as well). Most places within the city centre are (or soon will be) within about a 20-minute walk of an MRT station. Our one complaint about the MRT is that we wish it would run even later than 1am, but we’ve been saying the same thing about San Francisco’s BART for decades.
MRT fares are based on distance. The base fare is NT20 and you’ll pay NT65 for the longest trip. Single tickets can be purchased from machines located in every MRT station. The fare for each destination is noted in both English and Chinese on a map beside the machine. Coins and bills are accepted, and change is provided.
If you’re going to spend any length of time in Taipei, buy yourself an Easy Card, the TRTA’s stored-value card. Adult/child Easy Cards sell for NT500/300, of which NT100 is a deposit. The rest is valid for MRT and bus fares and even for payments at certain car parks. It saves the hassle of queuing for tickets and fumbling for change and the best part, the Easy Card gives users a 20% discount on MRT fares. Additionally, if you use your Easy Card and transfer between the MRT and a bus within two hours, the bus ride is half-price. If you’re taking a bus on your way to the MRT, the same discount applies.
To use your Easy Card, wave it across a reader device (Savvy Easy Card users wave the card through their wallet or handbag). The reader will then tell you how much value you have left. When the value drops below NT100, the reader will beep.
Easy Cards can be purchased from machines at many MRT stations (instructions available in English). Cash is accepted at most stations and you can add value to your Easy Card using either cash or bank/credit cards, although foreign cards tend not to work. Some stations have both cash and card versions of the Easy Card machines.
When you’re done using your Easy Card, simply take it to an MRT ticket booth and your deposit plus any remaining value will be refunded.
Taipei’s bus system is decidedly harder to figure out as compared with the MRT, mostly because there are so many more bus lines than there are subway lines. But most buses in the city have English signs, generally names of the neighbourhoods or their terminal points, making Taipei’s most time-honoured mode of transport a good bet for visitors as well.
There are several types of buses, run by several companies, although that won’t matter to most travellers as all of them accept Easy Card. Each bus is numbered on the front and sometimes on the side, and larger buses display the start and end points of the routes in Chinese and English. Note, however, that it’s not always clear which direction the bus is headed. There are also minibuses, sometimes called hóng (red) buses, with the character appearing before the route number.
All MRT stations have a map marking bus stops in its vicinity. If you can’t find the map, just ask the attendant. Once you’ve located the bus stop, stand by the sign for your bus and if you see it coming be sure to flag it down. As there may be several different bus routes converging at the same stop, drivers often assume that passengers will identify themselves for pick-up. Note that Taipei’s buses may not necessarily pull all the way up to the kerb. Occasionally the bus will stop a lane away, though you usually do not have to step through traffic to board the bus.
Fares are NT15 on most routes within the city centre, though that can double or triple on longer routes. If the sign over the fare box reads (shàngchē), that means you pay getting on and (xiàchē) means you pay getting off.
There isn’t much reason to drive in Taipei, though both cars and motorcycles can be a good thing to have to explore the mountains around the city. If you do ride around Taipei on a motorcycle or scooter, make sure your paperwork is in order. Random traffic checks for unlicensed, drunk (or both) motorcyclists are now the rule, not the exception, and the days when a foreign face and lack of Mandarin-speaking ability would get you off the hook are long over.
Taipei’s distinctively yellow taxis are metered and charge by distance and waiting time. Base fare is NT70 for the first 1.5km plus NT5 for each 300m thereafter. After midnight, the base fare is NT70 for the first 1.2km plus NT5 for each 250m thereafter. Taxis also charge NT5 for every two minutes that the car is idle (eg sitting in traffic or at a red light). These two minutes are cumulative and appears on the meter.
You won’t have any trouble finding a taxi in the city centre as they’re everywhere. There are taxi stands around the city but most people just hail one from the side of the road. If an approaching taxi is available, it will have a red light in the windscreen. A taxi may well honk and just stop for you if you look like you need a ride.