CORONAVIRUS/Passenger load on buses, trains plunges on 1st day of holiday amid COVID
Taipei, June 12 (CNA) The passenger load on buses and trains around Taiwan fell to less than 20 percent Saturday, the first day of the three-day long Dragon Boat Festival weekend, after the government urged people to avoid long distance travel in the wake of an outbreak of indigenous COVID-19 cases.
Data compiled by the Directorate General of Highways (DGH) under the Ministry of Transportation and Telecommunications showed a total of 275 buses operating Saturday morning, carrying 845 passengers on 90 highway routes in Taiwan, with an average of 3.1 passengers per bus, compared with an average of 4.4 a day earlier.
Based on previous patterns, travelers in Taiwan tend to travel the day before a long holiday.
The festival is generally considered an occasion to return home by people who work in the north but have parents or other family members in central, southern or other parts of Taiwan.
However, the passenger load of well below 20 percent on highway buses indicates the public may be following the government's direction not to return to their hometowns.
Many political heavyweights, including President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), have advised people who had previously planned to travel during the holiday not to do so and offered refunds for tickets already purchased.
During the current holiday, the DGH said highway buses will operate with a significant reduction in seats available owing to a special seating arrangement, giving passengers more space.
On the country's railways, including the sole high-speed rail in the west, the average passenger load also fell below 20 percent Saturday, statistics showed.
Taiwan Railways Administration said about 55,000 passengers will travel on its trains Saturday, with an average passenger load of 6.12 percent.
The agency said the passenger load of many trains it offers Saturday is expected to fall below 20 percent, the ceiling set by the authorities, after many people claimed refunds on deciding not to travel.
For its part, Taiwan High Speed Corp. said the average daily passenger load on its trains is expected to remain at around 4.5 percent from June 11-15 with enhanced public awareness of pandemic prevention.
To rein in traffic volume on highways during the current holiday, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) asked transportation authorities to tighten controls on the number of cars accessing freeways, but the measures resulted in congestion, sparking an outcry among commuters and logistics truck drivers.
Chen Tsung-yen (陳宗彥), deputy head of the CECC, apologized for the inconvenience, but emphasized the tightened measures are widely accepted by the public during the surge in infections.
Citing data released by the DGH, Chen said the traffic volume in the early hours of Saturday fell 67.7 percent from the first day of last year's Dragon Boat Festival holiday.
Meanwhile, Taipei and New Taipei, two COVID-19 domestic transmission hotspots in Taiwan, imposed restrictions on the number of customers allowed to enter traditional markets, hypermarkets, supermarkets and department stories during the holiday.
The Economic Development Department of New Taipei City Government, said violators face a fine of NT$60,000 (US$2,171) to NT$300,000.
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