New Taipei Mayor Hou Yu-ih (侯友宜) said Sunday his government is hoping that the first section of the Circular Line in Taipei's mass rapid transit (MRT) system will officially begin operations before the end of January, although the precise date has not yet been decided.
The decision on the exact opening date will be made when Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) returns from Europe later this month, Hou said during an inspection tour of the line, which began free trial runs Sunday on the first section and is scheduled to serve Taipei and New Taipei when all sections are completed.
Speaking to reporters at Banqiao Station, Hou said the Circular Line will effectively save a lot of time since passengers in New Taipei will be able to travel around the city without going to transfer stations in Taipei.
"For instance, it takes 39 minutes to travel from Touqianzhuang Station in Xinzhuang to Banqiao Station, but on the new line it will take only five minutes," Hou said.
He estimated that the line will officially open sometime before the end of January, after he has discussed the matter with Ko, who is scheduled to return to Taiwan on Jan. 22.
On Sunday morning, after the first section of the Circular Line opened for free test rides, long queues of people were seen at several stations.
The free rides, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily, will continue for a month, even after the line officially opens, according to Hou.
During the one-month ride period, passengers who use MRT payment cards will not be charged when entering or exiting the 14 stations on the first section of the Circular Line. However, if they transfer to or from another line in the metro system, they will be charged the regular fare, the operator said.
During the test period the driverless trains will run every eight minutes, according to Taipei Rapid Transit Corp. (TRTC). Once the line begins formal operations, however, the time between trains will be adjusted to 10 minutes in off-peak hours and four to seven minutes during rush hour, TRTC said.
The fares on the Circular Line will be similar to those on the existing MRT lines, ranging from NT$20 (US$ 0.66) to NT$65 based on the distance, TRTC said.
The new 15.4-kilometer line connects Dapinglin to New Taipei Industrial Park through Xindian, Zhonghe, Banqiao and Xinzhuang without having to go through Taipei.
The line is also expected to ease congestion at existing transfer stations in the MRT network because passengers traveling between cities in the southwestern area of Greater Taipei will be able to bypass downtown Taipei, where they now have to transfer.
Passengers on the Circular Line will also be able to transfer to the Taoyuan Airport MRT at New Taipei Industrial Park Station, and to the Taiwan Railways Administration and Taiwan High Speed Rail lines at Banqiao Station.
The first section, also called the Zhong Huan Section (central circle), or Yellow Line, is the only elevated segment of the Circular Line, as the other three will be built underground.