People in Taiwan get around much like other people in the world–they use trains, cars, and buses to get to work and to get where they need to go. However, one thing about transportation in Taiwan that really stands out is the amount of scooters on the streets. Scooter drivers are everywhere: zooming down the highways, squeezing through alleyways and night markets, and parking on sidewalks and street corners throughout the country. Why so many scooters? Their popularity in Taiwan can be explained by a number of reasons, some practical, some historical, and some that deal with how Taiwan’s cities have developed over the years.
People use a large number of ways to get around in Taiwan. First, there are the public transportation systems. Buses and trains are two of the most popular, and two of the most convenient. Public transportation in Taiwan is very fast, convenient, and affordable. Millions of people use the public transit systems to get to work every day, and to travel between towns and cities. Secondly, there are personal forms of transportation. Scooters and cars are the most popular forms of these, with scooters playing the largest rolese in the every days lives of of most Taiwanese people.
As far as public transportation goes, the bus system in Taiwan is very efficient. Even in rural Luodong, where I live, buses run to Taipei every 10-15 minutes. The buses are clean, comfortable, and come equipped with TVs and a bathroom on board. Not a bad way to travel!
The train system in Taiwan also very fast and affordable. There are several different types of trains you can take to get where you need to go. The faster trains are more expensive, and the slower ones are cheaper. For longer trips, it is worth taking the express train, which can go from the very northern part of Taiwan to the very south in under an hour and a half! For short trips, the local train is just fine. I can travel from Luodong to the larger city of Yilan in under ten minutes on the local train, so for local travel there is really no need to pay extra for an Express ticket (which shortens the trip to six minutes). However, going from the northern part of the island to the southern part on a local train would take hours and hours. So, the longer the trip, the more it is worth investing in a ticket for a faster train!
In terms of personal travel, many people in Taiwan own both a car and a scooter. However, scooters are the main modes of transportation for a lot of Taiwanese people. Most scooters range from 50cc (with a top speed of about 45mph) to 150cc (with a top speed of about 65-70mph). I have a 50cc scooter, which is fine for traveling around Luodong and to and from Yilan City, where I take my Chinese classes buy more difficult-to-find imported goods. Scooters are everywhere in Taiwan! Taiwan has a population of about 23 million, and there are over 15 million scooters registered with Taiwan’s transportation department! According to Taiwan’s Department of Transportation, scooters make up about 68% of the total vehicles on the road in Taiwan! The large amount of scooters in Taiwan is very related to Taiwan’s history of development and to the way roads were built in the past.
I got a scooter about a month after I arrived in Taiwan, and I love riding it around and exploring different parts of the island! I love the sense of freedom it gives me, and the convenience factor can’t be beat! For example, I used to have to walk 30 minutes to reach the train station in Luodong. Now, my scooter has turned a 30 minute walk into a ten minute ride. I can get from my apartment door to the school where I teach in about ten minutes. I travel to Yilan City twice a week for my Chinese class and for teacher training workshops and it only takes me about 25 minutes on my scooter before I’m in the city.
However, there are some negatives to riding a scooter in Taiwan—some people don’t really follow the traffic laws, and it can be dangerous if you aren’t paying attention! I always try to remember that safety is very important when I am riding my scooter. I always wear a helmet, follow traffic laws (even though no one else seems to!) and watch out for other scooters on the road. Having a scooter is a lot of fun, but it is also a big responsibility.
The large amount of scooters on Taiwan’s streets are connected to the country’s economy, the layout of its cities, towns, and roads, and its history of development.
Affordability is a big reason why so many Taiwanese people own a scooter. Taiwan (along with China and Italy) has the most scooter manufacturers in the world. This is why most everyone drives one—scooters are widely available, inexpensive, and very convenient.
Convenience is big reason why so many people have scooters in Taiwan. Taiwan’s small size and the way its cities are built make it very convenient to drive a scooter instead of a car or a truck. Unlike American cities, where businesses and buildings tend to be spaced rather far apart, the businesses and buildings in Taiwan’s cities are usually located very close together, making having a scooter much more convenient than having a car.
Also, because cities are crowded with buildings and businesses, it is sometimes less time consuming to drive a scooter than it is to drive a car. Driving a scooter allows you to zip around traffic and get to where you need to go a lot faster. Parking is also a lot easier! Parking laws are not strictly enforced in Taiwan, so every corner of the street can turn into a makeshift scooter parking spot!
In addition to cost and convenience factors, Taiwan’s history of development has a lot to do with why scooters are such a common sight around the country. Taiwan’s streets are made up of numerous small alleys and narrow lanes, and there are a lot of one-way streets. Because of this, there are a lot of traffic problems. Cars, buses, taxis, and transport trucks can clog the streets, which are sometimes too narrow to comfortably fit all the vehicles on the road.
This somewhat problematic traffic situation is due to Taiwan’s rapid economic development in the past 25 years or so. Before the 1980s, Taiwan’s cities had poor or basic infrastructure, only a few cars and trucks on the road, and rather unreliable public transportation.
In the late 1980s, Taiwan’s government put in a lot of political reforms, and with these political reforms, came a lot of foreign investment and economic development.
Soon after, Taiwanese people were able to afford cars and trucks, and many more people began driving. However, Taiwan’s cities were built around small roads that were meant to handle carts and the occasional truck. With the sudden boom of vehicles on the roads, it was difficult to expand Taiwan’s roads to accommodate all of these new cars, trucks, and buses. Traffic headaches were common.
By the time scooters came around a few years later, they were a very welcom addition to Taiwan’s transportation scene. Scooters were a much more convenient and much less costly way to travel around the island, and allowed people to bypass the traffic of the city streets. Scooters quickly gained popularity throughout the towns and villages of Taiwan, as they were fast, convenient, and cheap modes of transportation that allowed for easier commutes. In addition to their convenience, scooters are also not very expensive to fill up with gas, unlike cars and trucks. They are relatively easy to maintain and remain cost effective throughout the time they are being used. The popularity of scooters increased over the years, to the point where almost everyone in Taiwan has one!
The factors of convenience, affordability, availability, and necessity (given Taiwan’s rapid development) can all account for why scooters are such a major part of daily life in Taiwan. The prevalence of scooters in the country reveal a lot about the history of Taiwan’s development—it only takes a little digging to figure this out. In short, scooters are very much a part of the fabric of Taiwanese culture, and don’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon!