Generally speaking, one can safely say that Taiwan traffic has to be among the worst in the world. It is not just that roads are choked with too many cars, motorcycles, buses and trucks all competing for minuscule advantage. It is not just that there are not enough traffic police and they do not seem to give out tickets for anything but highway speeding (at least during those few hours every night one isn't gridlocked in the huge traffic jam called Highway around here). On top of all this, there is the Taiwanese – Confucian sense of responsibility to one's family and to hell with others. Traffic lights are reduced to mere points of personal reference, blinkers only have a decorative function on cars and motorcycles, the highway emergency shoulder becomes the fastest lane and if the traffic rules don't suit the circumstance of the person driving, they can be ignored. Be prepared for the worst, because travel within Taichung is no exception and it can be a dirty and frustrating business until you get the hang of it and develop the necessary attitude. Transportation for most students is limited to scooters, motorcycles and bicycles, buses and taxis (trains only run between cities).
Taichung City may be a confusing place at first; you may feel completely lost due to your initial illiteracy; you can only orient yourself using landmarks and it may seem to take forever before you get familiar with the city streets.
One way to overcome your disorientation is to frequently travel into areas new to you. Make creative use of the first few days after your arrival. You will have some time to go exploring the city, because you will probably arrive a few days earlier to register. Go downtown and hop on a strange bus on a weekday (Sundays after 12:00 is the worst) and just explore, or buy a map and take section by section tours by motorcycle or bicycle. Early Sunday mornings are excellent times to tour because the streets are relatively empty. City maps published by the Golden Apple Enterprise Co. Ltd. cost NT$ 60 (available at stationery stores and bookstores) and have a list of the bus routes, though in Chinese of course. Free maps and documentation are also available from the Tourism Bureau at 95 Gan-chen Street, Nantun (2254-0809/0800-422022). Maps of the bus routes are available at the bus terminals on Lu-chuan Road.
Some students prefer to get their own wheels as soon as possible, others prove that it is also perfectly possible to get around Taichung sans scooter. Quite a few people feel that scooters are an essential part of city life in Taichung because they are the fastest means of transportation, especially during rush hour.
That being said, all drivers must be very careful, continually looking in all directions, because the flow of traffic here simply flows in all directions. It will take a good amount of time to get adjusted to the occasional hectic or stressful traffic conditions.
There are some cases of road rage making headlines, so it may be additionally cautious to simply go with the flow as best as possible. It is very likely, however, that you'll have to use the bus at least the first few weeks.
Finding a place by an address can be difficult, unless you are familiar with the way the Chinese in Taiwan number roads and buildings. All buildings, though, have their complete address marked on the blue house number sign, so you don't have to walk to the next intersection to find out the street name as in most western countries. Addresses written in Chinese come in declining order of magnitude, roughly like this: country – city – district – road or street – road section – lane – alley – house number – floor – door number – company or person.
Roads are Lu, Streets are Jie. Many streets/roads are intersected by lanes – Xiang – and these may be intersected by smaller alleys – Nong. The streets/roads can be further divided into Sections – Duan. Buildings are numbered, typically, with odd-numbered buildings on one side of the road and even-numbered ones on the other. If a lane intersects the road between two buildings, the lane will be numbered as if it were a building. Likewise, small roads intersecting a lane will be numbered similarly. Sometimes, though, lanes are named by the road they intersect.
Using the bus system is slower than using your own vehicle, but buses have the advantage of size in any street melee. Although crowded at rush hour and a little unpredictable, they only cost NT$ 13-20 per section, depending on the company. Try to avoid the typical rush hour times, plus when schools get out, unless you are endowed with an extra measure of oriental patience.
When you board, have exact change ready, and put it in the glass and metal contraption beside the bus driver. Be prepared! The drivers won't wait for you to reach a seat, they'll just go for broke. Occasionally, when someone else wants on your bus, that initial burst of speed will be followed by heavy braking; try not to fall on the old gentleman beside you. The same holds true for getting off the bus; brace yourself to avoid leaving via the front window. To let the driver know you want to get off at the next stop, pull the bell-chord under the overhead compartment.
While you're on the bus, you may see, and quickly become jealous of, passengers that merely swipe a card to settle their fares and consequently decide you want to join in on the fun. The E-card seen to the left can be used for various mass transports and will save you loads of annoyances. You only need to swipe the card once when you get on the bus and once when you get off; the total will automatically be deducted from your account. E-card sales and recharging locations are listed in the Contacts section. Our preliminary information shows the card itself is free of charge but we won't make any guarantees. According to our information, recharging can take place at any convenience store with an E-card mark or at the locations listed in the Contact Information section and the recharging requires a minimum reloading of NT$ 300 for ordinary passengers, NT$ 200 for children and NT$ 700 for passengers paying for a set period of time. The maximum recharge of NT$ 5,000 per payment and maximum card limit of NT$ 10,000 shows that some people must spend far too much time on buses. But now back to actually riding the buses…
Do not step off the bus without looking both ways for daredevil scooter drivers. They love to pass buses on the inside and will accelerate madly given any opportunity to do so; their minds miss the connection between stopped buses and the hazard of disembarking pedestrians. Or. . . close your eyes and try your luck.
The biggest problem with the bus system in Taichung is that the routes are not designed as a grid but as a star shape. To get from one arm to the next, though tantalizingly close, one must return toward the center of the star and then transfer to a new bus going outward. This can be time consuming. There are two bus companies in Taichung; the Ren-Yo Company has red buses and the Taichung Tong-lian Ke-yun company's buses are green and have a polar bear as their logo.
Going into the city and returning is easy, though rerouting (due to construction or festivals, etc.) and relocation of bus stops can prove worrying once in a while. Downtown buses from and to Feng-chia Road are the red #22 and #25 and the green #125. (See Map). The ride can take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes depending on traffic, which seems to be lightest from 09:00 to 11:30 and 13:30 until 17:00. Don't get on the green #22 when you're downtown – a common mistake – because you'll head for Tunghai University, on a different arm of the system, and it'll take you quite some time to get home (unless you get off and get a cab!).
Although the buses are frequent along the major lines, coming every ten minutes, the buses do stop running around 22:00. The last #22 from downtown runs at 22:20. At night you must rely on taxis.