Public transportation in Taiwan is clean, efficient, safe, and comfortable. Although Taipei is one of the busiest large cities in Taiwan, you can often find a seat on the subway, and you will not have to wait long for buses, taxis, and other forms of transportation. Motor scooters and bicycles often have their own separate lane on city streets, making two-wheeled transportation safe and convenient.
The most common forms of public transportation will be taxis and buses in the cities, and Taiwan's version of the subway, known as the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) is a favorite for those living in the bigger cities of Taipei, Taoyuan, Taichung, and Kaohsiung.
If you are traveling between cities, Taiwan has an amazing train system that makes travel very easy. The Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR) can take you from Taipei to Kaohsiung in 1.5 hours. But if you are traveling around the island, stopping by smaller cities, including those in Eastern Taiwan, the regular railway (Taiwan Railways Administration, TRA) is probably your best option. The good news is that the MRT, THSR, TRA, and local bus systems interconnect with each other to make an efficient and convenient network of public transportation. No matter what you choose, you can travel with comfort and confidence.
The MRT is unlike most subway systems Americans may be used to. They can certainly get crowded during rush hour but otherwise are quite comfortable, always clean, and on time. If you are flying to Taipei the MRT is your best bet on getting from the airport to the city.
One of the great things about Taiwan's MRT is that all the station signs, maps, directions, and kiosks have English as well as Mandarin Chinese. Getting around in the MRT is very easy, and if you ever get lost, just look at a subway map and a friendly local will likely come up and offer to help you find your way.
The MRT usually runs between 6:00am and midnight. Tickets are typically between US$1.00 and US$6.00 depending on the distance you travel.
The Taipei MRT is the earliest and "flagship" MRT system in Taiwan. Everyday there are about 1-2 million people commuting with this very efficient subway or light rail system. Check their website for the latest fare and schedule information. You can also see how the Taipei MRT connects with other transportation systems including Taoyuan Airport MRT, Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA), and Taiwan's High Speed Rail system (THSR).
You can get a pre-paid EasyCard from the convenient stores. This is highly recommended if you reside in Taipei as you are likely to use the MRT most often. The EasyCard can also be used to ride the Kaohsiung MRT and Taoyuan International Airport MRT, and you can ride buses and make payments in convenient stores.
The Kaohsiung Metro (KRTC) is another important MRT system located in Southern Taiwan. People living in Kaohsiung may prefer to get iPass, which is similar to the EasyCard and also has a wide acceptance, though this card may provide more benefits for riding on the Kaohsiung MRT.
The Taoyuan Airport MRT is an exciting addition to connect the existing Taipei MRT and Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR). Now you can get to the Taoyuan Airport in a fast and economical way.
The Taichung Mass Rapid Transit (TMRT) is a new MRT system that has been servicing the Taichung metropolitan area since 2021. There is currently one Green Line that is in operation with more lines in development. TMRT also connects with the Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR) and Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA).
Taiwan High Speed Rail and Taiwan Railways
The Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR) is probably one of the most important public transportation systems developed in recent years to aid the original Taiwan Railways (TRA). It plays an important role to connect major cities on the west side of Taiwan, where most industries and business are located. This makes a critical change to Taiwanese lifestyle as Northern Taiwan and Southern Taiwan are becoming a "daily living sphere". Now people can live in Kaohsiung, work in Taipei in the morning, visit clients in Hsinchu, and comeback home to Kaohsiung for dinner.
For international students, it is worthwhile to know how to use the Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR) effectively with the regular railways. (Taiwan Railways Administration, TRA). While the Taipei, Kaohsiung, and Taoyuan THSR stations are well connected with local MRT and TRA, you may find other stations are a bit far from the populated city centers, which were built around the earlier developed railways (TRA). Therefore, check your schedule and budget. You may find TRA is actually faster and more economical to reach cities in between.
Buses and taxis
Buses and taxis are about as ubiquitous as motor scooters in Taiwan. They are going to be the most available form of public transportation you can find when commuting in both large cities and smaller towns.
Every city in Taiwan has its own bus network, which is usually the most cost-effective way of getting around. Bus fare averages about US$0.50 per ride. Aside from the MRT, buses are the easiest and most convenient way to get around. Buses are more expensive in bigger cities and based on the distance you travel.
Taiwan's taxis resemble many of those in the USA as they are also bright yellow with an obvious "Taxi" sign on their roof. Taxi fare are regulated in cities and counties, but the fare can usually be negotiable for longer distance trips. Also, most taxi drivers do not speak English, though for Americans learning Mandarin Chinese, they are a great way to practice your Mandarin skills. If you are not comfortable with speaking Mandarin Chinese, you can show the driver your destination on the phone map to estimate the fare and make sure you have enough money to pay. Also, you can ask a local to help you confirm your destination.
Cash is still king in Taiwan, so you may be expected to pay cash for taxi rides. If you prefer to pay by credit card, you can use APP or make a phone call to get a taxi from larger fleet companies like Taiwan Taxi. You can also go to a 7-Eleven and order a taxi from a kiosk, making it more convenient. However, taxis are by far the most expensive way to publicly commute. For more taxi information, visit this travel guide.