It’s 8:20 AM on Monday and you’re late for work. You rush out of the house, wondering if you’ll make it to the office on time. Arriving at the MRT station, you discover that you’ve left your wallet at home. Do you utter some choice expletives and troop back to your place to get it, certain now that you’ll punch in late? Not you, not today. You check your pockets, and voila! You’re still able to take the train, borrow a YouBike to ride to your office, and even buy breakfast at the 7-Eleven downstairs, all before arriving at work at 8:58! Did you happen to find a few hundred NT in your pocket? No! It was your trusty EasyCard, the Taipei smartcard, which saved the day.
The EasyCard (or “yōuyóu kǎ”) was first introduced in 2002 for paying fares on both the MRT and bus systems in Taipei, replacing the separate MRT and bus cards used previously. It still gives riders a discount if they take both in succession (within a one-hour grace period)*, and offers a 20% discount on single-journey MRT fares, making it a must for any regular rider. Unlike the old cards, which had to be fed through machines, the EasyCard is a contactless smartcard, meaning users simply have to wave it close to the sensor area upon entering or exiting an MRT gate or paying on a bus, which speeds up the fare-paying process considerably.#
While the Chinese name translates to “easy travel card,” the EasyCard is not exclusively for municipal transportation. Besides on the MRT and buses, passengers on Taiwan’s railway network (TRA) can pay with their EasyCards if they are traveling within either the northern (Fulong – Keelung – Miaoli) or southern (Linnei – Tainan – Pingtung) sectors. Elsewhere, an EasyCard can be used to pay at all public and many private parking garages, on the Maokong Gondola, and for the new public bike-share system, YouBike.
Of course, shopping is a popular pastime here, and the EasyCard is also accepted at many businesses including convenience stores (7-Eleven and FamilyMart), restaurants and cafes (Starbucks, Pizza Hut, and Coldstone Creamery), and finer department stores and retailers (Shinkong Mitsukoshi, Pacific SOGO, Muji, Eslite) throughout Taiwan. If shopping isn’t your thing, you can pay with your EasyCard when visiting the Taipei City Zoo and certain museums as well, which is great for avoiding the long queues on weekends. Public libraries have come on board recently and patrons can now use their EasyCards to borrow books. In short, the EasyCard a very convenient alternative to cash and the ways it can be used are increasing all the time. Just look for the distinctive multi-colored logo!
EasyCards can be purchased for NT$100 (a refundable deposit) at any MRT station and at many convenience stores. Value can be added at these places in NT$100 increments up to NT$10,000. Be careful though: if you lose your EasyCard, any stored value is likely gone with it and you won’t be able to get your deposit back either. In 2009, a local consumer protection group estimated that approximately NT$6 million is lost annually due to misplaced EasyCards.
So, the next time you leave the house without your cash or ATM card, don’t worry! As long as you have your EasyCard (and it still has a few hundred NT in stored value on it), you won’t starve or be forced to walk to work. Now that’s one smart card!
* Old Taiwan hands will remember having to line up to swipe their bus cards in the MRT station prior to exiting, giving them a free bus ride.
# With the old cards, if you didn’t first retrieve them from the slot, the turnstile would not disengage, so patrons who were in a hurry and forgot to get their cards, often got a bruise on their legs (or worse) for their efforts!