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News : Hotline Service Aimed at Foreign Taxi-users Falls Short
Taipei, Taiwan, May 28, 2015 -- Translation services for non-Chinese users of Taipei taxis have been announced by the Taipei City Government, but an investigation by the Taipei Times revealed glitches in service quality.
"Other than ensuring international tourists can use normal public transportation, we also want to ensure they can take advantage of some of the tour guide services taxis can provide," Taipei Department of Transportation Commissioner Chung Hui-yu said, adding that cab drivers’ local knowledge made them well suited to act as guides.
The department said that in the past, the language barrier had prevented foreigners from taking full advantage of taxi services.
"Because of the language barrier, some taxi drivers are unwilling to carry foreigners," Taipei Public Transportation Office General Transportation section head Chen Juin-hong said. "Communication problems make it easy for there to be misunderstandings over destinations and fares — potentially leading to conflict."
While ordinary fares are computed automatically by meters installed in all city taxis, hiring taxis for extended half-day or full-day trips requires haggling over destinations and price, which is difficult for international tourists, he said.
Taipei Research, Development and Evaluation Commission Chairman Chen Ming-shiun said the commission would expand the English service provided by its "1999" hotline to include basic translation services for taxi drivers and foreign riders.
The hotline is a toll-free number for people seeking information about city government services and receives an average of 7,000 calls per day.
The hotline can be reached by dialing 1999 from any city phone, with transfer to an English operator available around the clock by dialling "0."
Chen Ming-shiun said that in the past the hotline’s English services have focused on helping foreign residents navigate the public transportation system.
Under the new system, English-speaking operators are set to help taxi passengers and drivers communicate, translating destination names and addresses.
They would also explain how much a reasonable fare is, he said.
"After a tourist tells us what they want to communicate to the driver, we will tell him to pass their phone to the driver," he said, adding that the service would enable a "three-way" conversation.
However, an investigation by the Taipei Times revealed bugs which raise questions over the ease with which foreign tourists would be able to use the service.
When calling 1999 to use the service, the operator said that he was not able to speak English. After switching to Chinese, the caller was told that English-speaking operators were all unavailable. The caller had to wait 55 minutes before being contacted by an English-speaking operator.
In response to questions, the 1999 hotline call center said that because the service receives between zero and three English-language calls per day, English-speaking operators are also responsible for taking calls in Mandarin, sometimes making them unavailable to foreign callers.
While in principle, callers are supposed to be put on hold for no longer than four minutes, English-speaking callers wait in the same line as callers who speak Mandarin when a backup forms, the center said.
In the event English speaking operators are unavailable, English-speaking callers are first forwarded to ordinary operators who are instructed to take down their names and contact information, which English-speaking operators use to call them back at a later time, the center said.
Plans to promote the service focus mainly on taxi drivers, with announcements directed at foreigners so far limited to a single paragraph within an advertisement for city-sponsored taxi tours on the Travel Taipei Web site of the Taipei Department of Information and Tourism.
The city government also plans to print stickers advertising the service — along with similar services for Japanese and Korean — to be placed in city taxis. However, current stickers feature minimal English, failing to clearly explain, for example, that the service is free and provided by the Taipei City Government.
Meanwhile, the city this month held its first English classes for taxi drivers, with 60 drivers signing up for 21 hours of instruction in basic English phrases.
Democratic Progressive Party City Councilor Ho Chih-wei called for the service’s number of bilingual operators to be increased.
He said that operators should also be trained to answer tourists’ questions about local events of interest, as well as refer tourists to materials and apps produced by the Department of Information and Tourism.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) City Councilor Chin Huei-chu, said the low number of English-language calls handled by the 1999 hotline showed the city government has failed to effectively promote the service. Chin said the hotline should be advertised in international publications and featured more prominently on the department’s Web site.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
Today's Tip of the Day - Involve Staff
About Taipei Department of Transportation:
Taipei City Department of Transportation (TCDOT) was established on March 1, 1988, as the planner and overseer of transportation planning, road traffic management, tourism and travel. It aims to provide city-wide transportation services that are safe, reliable, outstanding and highly efficient.
Published: Friday, May 29, 2015