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Navigating Public Transport in Taiwan

What your options are, and which transport card to get

· 6 min read

If you are visiting Taiwan for the first time, one of the things on your mind is probably navigating its transportation system. Figuring out the public transportation system could get rather stressful as well, especially if you cannot speak the language. With this guide, we'll help you get through some of the basics of navigating the transportation system in Taiwan.

Inter-city transport

Let's first take a look at inter-city transport in Taiwan. If you are traveling from city to city, there are a few options: High-speed rail, Taiwan Railway, or inter-city buses.

High Speed Rail

Taiwan Highspeed Rail

Of course, the high-speed rail is the fastest (but also most expensive) option. However, it is important to note that not all cities have a high-speed rail station; and for those that do, the stations are not always in the city center. For instance, if you are traveling to Taichung or Tainan via high-speed rail, it should be noted that you will need to take a bus (or arrange for a transfer) from the high-speed rail station to the city center. (If you are traveling to Taipei or Kaohsiung, this wouldn't be a problem.)

Taiwan Railway

The Taiwan Railway is another option that you can use for inter-city travels. While the Taiwan Railway is a slower option than the high-speed rail, they have stations in the city-center, making it way more convenient if time isn't a factor for you. The Taiwan Railway also go through major cities and smaller towns, providing a wider coverage than the high-speed rail.

Taiwan Railway train
Source: Taiwan Railway

The Taiwan Railway has different types of trains - the local train, fast local train, Tze-Chiang Ltd Express, Fu-Hsing Semi Express, Chu-Kuang Express, Puyuma Express, and Taroko Express. These trains vary in the routes that they cover, as well as the stops that are covered — some trains will skip certain stations. As a guideline, the Tze-Chiang Ltd Express and Chu-Kuang Express trains are usually the fastest, and local trains will give you the longest journey time.

P.S. If you will be taking the Taiwan Railway or high-speed rail, we recommend that you also try their Taiwan Railway bento! It is one of our favourite things about traveling inter-city in Taiwan. The bentos are available for sale at the train stations.

Inter-city buses

Inter-city buses are also available, and they usually depart from multiple bus stations across each city. Kingbus and U-bus are two of the biggest bust operators in Taiwan, and they cover many inter-city routes. Of course, you can expect a longer travel time with buses, and your travels will be susceptible to traffic conditions. However, a benefit of traveling by bus is that they have more stops in the city, and it could be more convenient especially if your destination isn't exactly near a train station.

Public transportation in the various cities

The efficiency and extent at which you can rely solely on public transport to get around varies largely across Taiwan — if you are in Taipei, it is very, very easy to get around via public transport, with its very well-connected metro lines and buses. In fact, if you are getting around Taipei, it is absolutely possible to get around just by using the metro, and we recommend using the metro as much as possible. There is nothing wrong with the buses in Taipei, but the metro lines are much more tourist-friendly, especially with the availability of English station names and announcements.

Taipei Metro Station
Source: Taipei Metro

Outside Taipei, things get a little more complicated. Getting around in Kaohsiung is not too bad (which shouldn't come as a surprise) - they have metro lines which can bring you to some of the main tourist areas, but if you wanted to venture further, you will need to use the buses. Taichung is the newest city with a metro, but it only has one line and doesn't cover much area, so buses are still your best bet.

And in all other cities? The public transport system is really not the best. There aren't metros, so you will likely have to rely on buses to get around. You might sometimes also find yourself having to take the Taiwan rail to get around in the same city, especially in areas like Taitung or Tainan.

Which transport card to get?

Now that you have an understanding of the public transportation system in Taiwan, let's take a look at which transport card to get. In deciding which transport card to get, one of the main factors is to consider the areas and transport options that support the use of this card. In the best case scenario, you can get around using just a single card.

EasyCard and iPass

There are two main transport cards in Taiwan: the EasyCard and iPass. Traditionally, if you were visiting Taipei, you would get an EasyCard; and if you were visiting Kaohsiung or Southern Taiwan, you would get an iPass.

But today, it really doesn't matter. Both cards can be used interchangeably in both cities. However, you might want to note that if you were using an iPass, when entering and exiting the metro stations in Taipei, there could be a limit to the gantries that you can use (but not to worry, you won't get 'stuck' in the station). Both cards can also be used for the Taichung metro, as well as in city buses across most cities.

Transportation aside, EasyCard and iPass can also be used for payment in many stores, including but not limited to convenient stores like 7-11, FamilyMart, HiMart, or OKMart. You can also conveniently recharge your cards at the train stations and the convenient stores.

So in terms of coverage of the EasyCard and iPass, they don't actually differ much and it is really down to personal preference. However, the EasyCard does have one advantage over the iPass, in that it is more commonly accepted in shops and on taxis, especially in Taipei.

EasyCard designs

In recent years, both EasyCard and iPass have been releasing very creative transport cards. From collaboration with popular franchises with Sanrio and anime franchises to artist collaborations, and even F&B brands -- there are a lot of options to choose from. So maybe, this could be a factor for you to consider as well when choosing which option to get. These unique designs can be found at the convenient stores, though there is a lot on whether you are lucky enough to find one that you like.

Getting tickets for high speed rail

You can purchase tickets online in advance, use the ticket machine at the train stations, from machines in Family Mart or 7-11, or from the counters at the train station.

If you are getting tickets for the high-speed rail, we recommend getting them in advance to leverage early-bird discounts, or to enjoy the special offers for tourists.

Day passes are also available, and these passes often could add up to be more cost-effective, though it ultimately depends on your itinerary. For example, if you were doing a day trip from Taipei to Kaohsiung (if you are wondering, yes, we did that. And no, we do not recommend it as a day trip, because there is a lot more to explore in Kaohsiung than you can do on a day trip.), it is actually cheaper to just get a 3-day pass than to get a return ticket for Taipei-Kaohsiung. Getting day passes would also give you more flexibility in changes to your itinerary.

If you are making an online purchase of your tickets, you can book your seats online — this will guarantee that you have a seat on the train. Train tickets are usually not entirely sold out unless there are major holidays, but we still recommend that you book your seats to secure a train at your preferred time. If you are unable to get a seat, there are also non-reserved cabins, where the seats are not reserved — that just means you are free to take any available seat, and if there are no seats, you just got to stand.

If your EasyCard or iPass is issued by a bank, you can also use it when taking the high speed rail. However, this is an unlikely scenario for a tourist. And note that if you are using the EasyCard and iPass, you can only use the non-reserved cabin and are not guaranteed a seat.

Getting tickets for Taiwan Railway

TRA ticket machine
Source: KKday

Similar to the high-speed rail, you can use both the EasyCard and iPass if you are taking the Taiwan Railway, but you will only be able to use the non-reserved cabins.

If you are taking a local train, it might be way more convenient to just use your transport pass. Local trains also do not have reserved seatings, so it doesn't really matter whether you use your transport passes or if you purchase a ticket. (In fact, using your transport passes entitles you to a slightly lower fare).

But if you are taking one of the express trains that has reserved cabins, you might want to purchase your tickets online or from the ticket counter instead to ensure you get a seat. But again, in the event where you are unable to get a seat, there is also the option of standing — though you should keep in mind the length of the journey to make sure standing throughout wouldn't be a problem for you.