Back in February Taipei’s Mass Rapid Transit System (MRT) welcomed its 5 billionth passenger trip. Opened in 1996 and serving roughly 1.66 million individual trips a day, hitting 5 billion in total trips is a noteworthy milestone.

Personally though I try to avoid the MRT as I prefer hitting the roads on the bicycle or scooter. Crowds just don’t do it for me and believe it or not it’s still massively cheaper to ride around on a scooter than catch the MRT.

Still, amidst thunderous storms hitting Taiwan’s capital yesterday, for the first time in a good few months I found myself waiting to catch a MRT train.

When one did finally arrive, here’s how it looked:

Colored pink and emblazoned with children wearing celebratory themed tshirts, probably not the way I would have advertised a 5 billionth trip, but each to their own. At least they were getting the message out there.

Hopping onto the train, inside you had a series of posters also creating awareness of the milestone:

You can’t see it in the above photo but where I’ve indicated with an arrow, the following English text appears:

Accumulated ridership has exceeded 5 billion journeys.

Shortly after reading that… I took stock of the whole poster and it was then I questioned the use of the number ’50′.

Somebody’s obviously decided the design a logo to mark the milestone and for some reason, rather than go with 5 for 5 billion they’d chosen 50. The number 50 featured prominently on the signage as well as on all the tops the little kids were wearing.

Naturally I turned to my girlfriend for an explanation and turns out that the use of 50 has something to do with how 5 billion is denoted in Chinese.

‘Fair enough… by why use English numbers to represent that then?’

This of course then deteriorated into one of our ‘it’s not English, it’s Chinese!’ ‘Of course it’s English, the numbers five and zero aren’t Chinese!’ type discussions, with both us eventually agreeing to disagree.

From my side of the fence the inclusion of the English text about 5 million trips means that Taipei Rapid Transit Corporation (TRTC) do intend for non-Chinese reading patrons to read the signs. With the only other recognizable English on there being the number ’50′, surely I’m not the only one who was confused (I originally thought it was a massive numerical fuckup on the TRTC’s behalf).

On the flipside if I was to write whatever denotes 5 billion using only Chinese characters but then tried to change the numerical value using English words, that would most definitely confuse people… so why do it at all?

Especially when you’ve gone to the trouble to whack the literal numerical value for 5 billion on the outside of the train.

It’s not that much of a big deal I know but if I didn’t know any better, I could just have easily have come away thinking whoever is running the MRT has no idea how to count… either that or they’d buggered the English and meant to write ’50 billion’ rather than 5.

Meanwhile the kids tshirts don’t even have any text on them other than the number 50, so it reads ‘yay we’re celebrating 5 billion trips by handing out tshirts with the number 50 on them!’

Good thing I don’t ride the MRT too often…