Flight services between Taipei and Kaohsiung will soon become history as Mandarin Airlines, the only carrier still operating on the route, will terminate its service at the end of August.
The development comes as no surprise to us. Local airlines and the Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA) cannot compete with the Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp., whose bullet trains offer convenient and speedy north-south travel services along our country's western corridor.
Over the past few years, the high-speed rail has already forced the closure of several other domestic air routes.
What surprises us more is how slow and awkward our government has been in dealing with the issue.
It is very regrettable that the government did not come up with a well-devised domestic transportation policy, let alone work out effective strategies to help domestic air service operators transform and explore other markets immediately after the inauguration of the bullet train service in 2007.
Initially, the Ministry of Transportation and Communications only allowed airlines to gradually cut the number of flights on the various routes serving the island's western corridor in order to keep local airports afloat. Mandarin Airlines, for instance, is still operating the Taipei-Kaohsiung route mainly to fulfill its "policy missions."
The ministry's practice, however, has been of no use at all in helping to tide the airlines over their difficulties and has only undermined their corporate finances and staff morale.
Discontinuation of flight services along the country's western corridor could leave consumers more vulnerable to the high-speed rail's market dominance.
Against this backdrop, improving the TRA's services has become even more important.
While traditional railway services might be unable to compete with the high-speed rail in terms of velocity, it can attract customers with its far more comprehensive rail network and large fleet of trains. The TRA should work out innovative ways to survive the competition from the high-speed rail.
Besides offering prompt and reliable mass rapid transit-like short-hop commuting services, the administration should offer value-added services to give passengers memorable experiences when they take the train.
To fulfill its inescapable mission of retaining a reliable, trustable railway transportation system capable of competing with the high-speed rail, the TRA should continue to improve management and recruit top-notch personnel to deliver active and attentive services to customers. (Editorial abstract -- July 23, 2012).
(By Sofia Wu)