Photo – Internet
China’s train ticket competition
intensifies ahead of Spring Festival
By Zhong Qun, Cao Ting, Liu Jingyang, Xiong Lin, Qi Zhongxi and Chen Guozhou
The Chinese Lunar New Year is almost two months away, but Mr Ji and his wife, who live in Shanghai, have already bought 21 train tickets to their hometown Harbin in northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province.
They don’t plan on making 21 journeys to home and back. Rather, the couple have been hoarding train tickets, which went on sale on December 7, in order to choose the most ideal time for their journey home during the travel rush, or “chunyun”.
“We have no choice, because we do not know which day we could go home,” said the husband surnamed Ji. With all the tickets in store, Mr Ji said he could choose the best and return the rest “without any charges”.
“Chunyun”, often referred to as the world’s largest human migration, is the hectic travel period surrounding Chinese New Year. Last year, the period saw about 266 million rail trips made, up 12 percent from the previous year. This year, the annual 40-day travel period will begin on February 4 and last until March 16.
With the Spring Festival approaching, the train ticket rush is already heating up, with the public frantically purchasing tickets in the lead-up to the hectic travel period.
On Friday, China sold more than 9.56 million train tickets, a new high for daily sales, as tickets became available for Feb. 16, 2015, three days ahead of the Spring Festival.
A total of 5.64 million tickets, or 59 percent of the total, were sold online on the same day, also hitting a historic high. The official ticket-selling website, 12306.cn, saw a record high of 29.7 billion page views on Friday, the Institute of Computing Technology under the China Academy of Railway Sciences said Sunday.
In an effort to facilitate a smooth travel peak, railway authorities made train tickets available 60 days in advance this year instead of 30 days as in previous years. Tickets can also be refunded 15 days before the train departs without any service charges.
The extension of the purchasing period and the refund policy have led to “ticket hoarding”, with some residents like Mr Ji trying to snap up as many tickets as possible because they are unsure of their returning dates .
At Beijing South Railway Station, one of Beijing’s busiest, dozens of passengers can be seen queuing outside the refund office to return purchased tickets.
One of the travellers told Xinhua that she came early to get refunds for the tickets she had hoarded, but many came even earlier.
Hoarders are not only the ones stirring up the ticket battle. Scalpers are making the situation even more difficult, according 12306.cn.
“Scalpers now use high-end software to snap up tickets, burdening 12306.cn,” a representative of the website told Xinhua.
Chinese rail police have launched a campaign targeting train ticket scalping by pledging to crack down on online scalping with a special squad of investigators.
Police have also increased patrols around railway stations. Meanwhile, they encourage the public to report scalpers to them.
But still, the problem remains rampant, as scalpers resort to new methods to reap huge benefits.
According to China’s state-broadcaster CCTV, some scalpers use software that can buy tickets within seconds of being posted on 12306.cn. Software that can automatically produce ID numbers and fake names such as the Chinese translation of “Kobe Bryant” are also applied.
“Because the website is not connected with the country’s public security system, scalpers can easily get the tickets,” an engineer told CCTV.
Scalpers then sell the tickets to those in dire need at much higher prices, and put the rest back into the ticket system. After that, they repeat the whole process.
With more people choosing to buy tickets on the Internet or via mobile applications, obtaining a ticket is increasingly difficult for Chinese migrant workers, who make up the bulk of the Chunyun travellers but do not have proper resources to purchase tickets with computers or cellulars.
To ease the problem, volunteers in a number of localities have gone out of their way to help migrant workers purchase tickets online.
Li Long, a senior student with City College of Science and Technology under Chongqing University, recently started a campaign, calling on his fellow students to help migrant workers buy tickets online.
“My parents are migrant workers, so I know how difficult it is to buy a ticket to go home,” Li told Xinhua.
On microblog Sina Weibo, Li’s campaign has drawn much attention, with many students voicing support.
But such help is only a drop in a bucket, said Huang Shaohua, a professor with Philosophy and Sociology School of Lanzhou University.
Huang suggested railway authorities reserve a certain number of tickets for migrant workers to ease the problem.
“The government should also restrict the IDs that frequently purchase train tickets online to eradicate ticket hoarding and scalping,” Huang added.