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Passengers hand their time over to HSR, and in return HSR has won their trust through rigorous standards and innovation.
Golden Service Champion
HSR: The New Benchmark for Travel Culture

Unveiling a ticket verification system that has wowed counterparts in Europe and Japan, Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp. is starting to shape a new culture of sophisticated travel in Taiwan.

Photos: cw

"The cars Taiwan's high-speed rail uses are the same as those on Japan's Shinkansen. The difference between the two is that in Japan, the JR (Japan Railways) personnel are stricter about ticket inspection and it's a real pain," says 30 year-old Tsutsui Takashi, who frequently travels from Japan to Taiwan on business. "In Taiwan, it seems there is no ticket inspection, only when you board and alight the train."

That's the only difference Tsutsui finds between Taiwan's High Speed Rail (HSR) and Japan's Shinkansen, commonly known as the "bullet train" – ticket inspection.

But what Tsutsui doesn't know is that it's not necessarily a lack of ticket inspection on HSR trains, it's just that the system employs Taiwanese technology to check tickets unobtrusively.

HSR's ticket and seating verification system was developed in-house and went online in February of last year. At his office in Taipei's Nangang district, Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp. chairman Ou Chin-der demonstrated the cellphone-sized ticket inspection device for CommonWealth Magazine reporters.

"Hmmm… This train is scheduled to arrive in Taoyuan at 5:06 pm. We sold 478 tickets, 73 of which are special seating for the disabled," Ou says, pointing to the little red seat icon on the seating chart displayed on the device's screen indicating that the passenger in that seat had purchased a "special seating" ticket.

The ticket-checking system updates itself at each station stop, allowing train conductors to complete a precise check of tickets without disturbing passengers. It aroused considerable interest among Japanese and European attendees at an International Union of Railways conference in April, who hoped to import the system for use on their trains.

"A lot of people are under the mistaken impression that we don't check tickets or that we engage in 'targeted ticket checks,'" Ou says. "Actually, this approach was born of a desire to respect the great majority of passengers and do our best not to disturb anyone."

Coming in contact with well over 100,000 passengers each day, one small act of kindness can have a major impact.

Taiwan High Speed Rail was the big winner in this year's CommonWealth Magazine Golden Service Award survey, not only far outpacing all rivals in the "long-distance land transport" category, but also taking the top spot in the overall rankings for all industries.

In the Black in 5 Years

Last year, HSR carried more than 41 million passengers at an annual average punctuality rate (trains arriving within five minutes of their due time) of 99.86 percent, comparing quite favorably with European and Japanese rail networks. Net after-tax earnings reached NT$5.78 billion, the first time the system has booked a profit in its five years of operation.

Ou, preparing to depart for the U.S. to attend the International Conference on Railway Engineering in Chicago, has conflicting emotions when presented with this hard-won report card, at once proud and pressured.

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