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As losses mount, Maokong Gondola trying to get back on track

2012/07/16 20:00:33

Taipei, July 16 (CNA) The Maokong Gondola has lost NT$230 million (US$7.67 million) in the past two and a half years, but Taipei Rapid Transit Corp. is hoping to reverse the trend with initiatives to boost declining ridership.

According to the company, which operates the cable car service between Taipei Zoo and the mountain tea area of Maokong, the system lost NT$98 million in 2010 and NT$83 million in 2011.

It also lost nearly NT$50 million in the first half of 2012, in part because of a month-long suspension of the system for maintenance in May.

In fact, the system, built at a cost of NT$1.3 billion, has never been much of a money-maker. It ran a small profit in its first six months of operation from July 4, 2007 to the end of the year, but has lost money on an annual basis since then.

The losses grew far more severe, however, after the system was shut down between late 2008 and March 2010 to relocate support towers, mostly because of a precipitous drop in ridership from 15,000 per day in 2007 to around 9,000 per day in 2012.

Though costs were relatively similar in 2008 (NT$180.5 million) and 2010 (NT$187 million), revenues fell from NT$158.7 million in 2008 to NT$88.4 million in 2010, the last year for which the company has posted detailed figures on its website.

The Chinese-language Liberty Times compared the service's operations unfavorably with the the Sun Moon Lake Ropeway, located in a prime tourist area in central Taiwan, but Ling Chi-yao, chief of the company's Media Relations Section, said the comparison was not fair.

He said the Maokong Gondola's primary function was to improve traffic control in an area where driving is not that convenient rather than promote tourism, but he acknowledged that efforts were now being made to boost ridership to keep the losses under control.

Among the measures under consideration are running promotions during special festivals or summer vacation, opening an online reservation service so that customers know they won't have to wait in line, and working with travel agents to arrange group rides.

The Liberty Times report attributed the lower ridership to the system's poor design, which does not have air conditioning in the cars, and frequent suspensions of service due to bad weather, especially thunderstorms.

But those conditions have always existed. Jason Lin, commissioner of Taipei's Department of Transportation, has a more plausible theory -- the system's novelty has warn off.

He told the paper that less than 20 percent of those who have experienced the system rode the Maokong Gondola a second time because of the lack of major attractions in the area and restrictions on further development of the land.

Taipei City Councilor Lee Ching-yuan of the Kuomintang urged the city government to set up a team dedicated to planning and creating leisure farms in the Maokong area over the next three to five years to bring the tourists back.

(By Johnson Sun and Maia Huang)