Sunday, January 23, 2011

Muji Oughta Redesign Taipei Main

In my last post, I reviewed the plentiful eating options at Breeze Taipei Main, giving the second floor shopping-and-food court a pretty firm thumbs-up. In fact, I wondered why Taoyuan Airport was so substandard when Taipei Main had such good offerings: to the point where I look forward to eating there. When going to the airport, I have to think ahead: what should I eat now, so I don't have to eat there?

Now, I want to deconstruct some of the aspects of Taipei Main's design that ought to be remedied as soon as possible.

I don't mean to come down on Taipei Main too hard: I realize it was built decades ago, and as such can't possibly meet modern needs as well as a new building could. That said, it was opened in 1989, and I am not joking when I say that I thought it was opened in the '70s.

As there do seem to be imminent renovation plans, I have a few suggestions for Fumihiko Maki that I'd like to throw out into Internetland.

1.) What's up with the downstairs restrooms?

Seriously, they're not wheelchair accessible (at least not easily), hard to find, inconvenient, not nearly plentiful enough and they smell like pee (more so than regular restrooms). Better restrooms with expanded women's stalls to meet the needs of female users need to happen NOW, and they need to be on the first floor. In Taipei Main Station, the solar plexus of Taipei City, I shouldn't have to go down a set of stairs to get to a bathroom.

As it is, I avoid going at Taipei Main at all costs, and wait until I'm on the HSR or in the MRT station. The addition of restrooms at Breeze upstairs has helped, but still, the first floor of Taipei Main needs restrooms. Who on Earth thought it would be acceptable to design them to be downstairs?

2.) A more navigable lower floor with better signage and flow

You've got 3 minutes until your train departs; you're running, You pound down the stairs and look frantically around to try and find the gate for your train. HSR trains here, TRA there, oh, but more TRA over here, and these gates are for that platform, and who knows where those go, but where's the gate for your platform? AHHHH!

It's amazingly difficult to figure out which gates you need for what train if you aren't familiar with the very un-intuitive layout of the lower level of Taipei Main. This needs to be fixed. Like, yesterday.

3.) Easier transit between the MRT and the Main Station building

The entrance to the MRT is practically hidden in a corner: I can never find it quickly, and it takes awhile to go through all the hallways to finally get to it. I'd prefer an exit that opened straight into the lower level, but barring that, designing the lower floor layout to make finding the MRT entrance easier is a key renovation. If you can't do this, how about:

4.) Better signage to the MRT

If that can't be done (though I fail to see why it can't), I am sure you've noticed that the signage is nowhere near adequate on the lower level. If you are on one end, and the hallway that leads to the hallway that leads to the MRT entrance is on the other, there is not even one sign telling you this. You have to cross the entire concourse to find a tiny sign that is only visible from one angle. If you approach it from the wrong angle? Sorry, buddy.

5.) Escalators to the lower level.

I know you can take escalators up from the lower level, and while it won't kill the average person in transit to walk down a flight of stairs, one assumes that the people heading downstairs at Taipei Main will be about to embark on a train journey. This likely means that they'll have a suitcase or heavy bag. People taking the local to Shilin or the HSR for a weekend trip to Tainan can walk down the stairs, but the kid lugging three suitcases full of laundry from Tai-Da to his hometown in Yunlin County should be able to take the escalator to get to his train.


6.) More English

I understand the train signs, mostly (I can't read characters for every town but I know all the major destinations and termini)...but foreign visitors? Do they? No. The MRT has signage and announcements in Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hakka and English. Is Mandarin and English too much to ask of the Taipei Railway Administration? I think NOT.

I realize that they do have some English signage, but they need more, and I know there are English announcements, but there also need to be more.

While we're on the signage tack...

7.) Eliminate those irritating "names" for trains of different speeds.

I still haven't figured out how to remember the difference between the "ziqiang", "fuxing", "qujian" and whatever trains are in between (OK, I know "qujian" is local and that "ziqiang" is pretty fast, but otherwise? No. I've tried to learn but I just can't seem to remember.)

How about trying these new and novel train names? Express, Limited Express, Regular and Local? See, easy.

8.) Less Dead Space

There is a huge surplus of space on the main, ground-floor concourse that doesn't get used. I am sure once a year at Chinese New Year that concourse fills up, but the rest of the time, it really is unused, under-utilized dead space. That space could be used for a larger tourist information desk, more stores and shops (a larger 7-11 would be nice), some restrooms, more ticket kiosks, a bank of ATMs...anything other than what it's used for now, which is nothing.

There honestly isn't much "stuff" on the ground floor, and yet it takes several minutes to cross, and the lines for the manned ticket counters are rather long. Ask yourself: if there isn't a lot of stuff there, why does it take so long to cross?

You have space. Use it.

9.) ATM! ATM! ATM fix everything!

(If you remember that old commercial)

Why are there only two ATMs in the entirety of the main concourse of Taipei Main, both run by the post office? I do applaud there being a small post office on the main concourse - good thinking - but there need to be more ATMs, full stop. It'd be best if they were the kind that dispensed 100s as well as 1000-note bills, since the HSR kiosks give change in coins.

10.) Better ticket kiosks, HSR kiosks on the first floor, and change in bills

I've never been good at those automated kiosks, and the manned ones have long lines. Why not invest in better automated kiosks with more English (I can read Chinese, but others can't) and more manned kiosks to meet demand?

As for the HSR, it's fine except that you can't buy a ticket from a kiosk on the first floor: most of the time you have to go to the lower level, which is, frankly, annoying. There is a manned service window on the main floor, but they don't provide all services.

While I'm at it, what's up with change in 50NT coins? What if I want a one way ticket to Xinzhu, but I only have a 1000 note? Does that mean I have to deal with 700 kuai in 50-kuai coins? That's 14 coins, 15 if you count the 10NT coin too. Seriously?

11.) That giant board above the manned TRA windows?

Make it easier to read. Without my glasses I can't even try, and with my glasses it's mostly incomprehensible, so I don't try. C'mon, you can do better.

12.) A taxi stand that's closer to the main building from which taxis can depart in multiple directions, easing congestion on Zhongxiao W Road.

At the moment you can only (legally) get a taxi by leaving from the East Exit and crossing the street. How about a taxi stand right outside so that people lugging suitcases off of trains or buses from the airport can immediately get into a vehicle, rather than having to drag their luggage across the road?

As it is, if the taxis at the one legal stand want to head west, they have to backtrack to Zhongshan and turn further up on Zhongxiao, which worsens traffic and takes longer. Have a stand from which taxis can depart in more than one direction.

I take taxis to Wugu quite often for work, meaning I cross the Zhongxiao Bridge. I'm so annoyed by the taxi situation that I will generally catch one illegally on Zhongxiao while the traffic attendant isn't watching, or catch one from in front of the Cosmos Hotel, because the taxi stand is so annoying.


J said...

More direct stairs down to the MRT are probably impossible- the TRA/ HSR tracks are directly between the Main Station building and the MRT areas directly below the station (ie, the mezzanine above the Danshui line). There should be a better connection to the Nangang line on the west side of the station, though there may be a good reason there isn't as well. As for the rest of it, I think the main issue is that the TRA is neglected in favor of sexier transportation like freeways and the HSR. It's a big bureaucracy that the government doesn't bother to reform, kindof like the MTA in New York. For some reason, of all the Japanese things the Taiwanese copy they haven't bothered to copy Japan's efficient rail system.

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

Fair enough, but better signage, at least! If they mark the entrance to the hallway to the other hallway to the MRT well, then that solves most of the problem.

As it is, it's very poorly marked and thus hard to find.

Anonymous said...

"How about trying these new and novel train names? Express, Limited Express, Regular and Local? See, easy."

They use those train names on the platform and onboard LED displays. Been that way for many years now.

Anonymous said...

AS far as I know, Fumihiko Maki isn't involved in renovating TMS. I think you're confusing his involvement with the office towers at the terminus for the Zhongli line with the much older main station.

Anonymous said...

"For some reason, of all the Japanese things the Taiwanese copy they haven't bothered to copy Japan's efficient rail system."

I've always had the feeling that the ruling Waishengren don't really identify with the train. Seems to me most of the passengers are lower income folks from outside the big cities.

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

Anonymous - if I'm wrong then I'm wrong because of Wikipedia: "Taipei Station and the area surrounding it has been undergoing renovation since 2005. Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki was chosen to design two skyscrapers that will surround the railroad station.[8] Maki will also oversee the renovation of Taipei Station."

The LED displays are confusing, though, if you're trying to find information quickly (they're not incomprehensible, just not well-designed for quick looking to get info you need if you have to rush to get a train) and the announcements are all but jarbledy-gook. At no point, by the way, have I seen a train display in English that has a normal train name and while they may announce them with normal names in English, I can't understand what they're saying because, well, most public announcements in train and subway stations are incomprehensible.

And I spend a *lot* of time in Taipei Main...though honestly most of it is because I work in the Science Park and take the HSR to Xinzhu a few times a week. I take TRA trains less often.

Anonymous said...

"Maki will also oversee the renovation of Taipei Station"

He's not even overseeing the construction of the airport MRT station in the basement of the towers. That task has been outsourced to Japanese architects IKDS.

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

Take it up with Wikipedia, buddy. (If this were an academic paper I wouldn't dare get my info from Wikipedia, though I might start my source search there, but I don't feel bad referencing them on a blog post).