Train tickets in short supply over annual travel peak

Updated: 2013-01-28 07:50

By Wang Xiaodong (China Daily)

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 Train tickets in short supply over annual travel peak

Crowds of people wait for ticket-checking at Beijing Railway Station to board the train heading for Songyuan in Jilin province on Saturday, the first day of this year's Spring Festival travel rush. Zou Hong / China Daily

Transport authorities have taken contingency measures to ensure the smooth movement of people during the world's largest annual migration that started on Saturday, but train tickets are still hard to get because of the gap between supply and demand.

Railway authorities will arrange 1,242 more trains every day on average during the 40-day peak travel season around the Lunar New Year holiday to meet the needs of an increasing number of migrant workers, the Ministry of Railways said on its website on Sunday.

A total of 4,516 passenger trains completed 5.2 million journeys on Saturday, the Ministry said. The ministry arranged 454 temporary trains on Sunday and predicted a total of 5.4 million passenger journeys will be handled.

A record 3.4 billion trips are expected to be made during this year's Lunar New Year travel rush, which lasts for 40 days from Jan 26 to March 6, as Chinese return home for family reunions during the Spring Festival holiday, the most important traditional Chinese holiday, which falls on Feb 10 this year.

The country's rail network is expected to handle 225 million trips, while long-distance buses will complete 3.1 billion passenger trips, which combine to account for 99 percent of the overall national capacity, according to the National Development and Reform Commission.

China's airlines adopted a similar approach by increasing the combined transport capacity to handle 35.5 million journeys, up 5.2 percent from the same period last year.

Transport authorities across China should improve contingency plans targeting bad weather such as extreme low temperature, fog and heavy snow, and transport enterprises are urged to intensify driver training to ensure safety, Feng Zhenglin, vice-minister of transport, said ahead of the peak travel season.

Chinese have traditionally favored road and train transportation, especially trains, for their safety and lower prices.

With a large number of people traveling during the period, getting a ticket, especially a train ticket, has been difficult every year. People often have to wait in long queues in railway stations, even over night.

To help migrant workers get train tickets, railway authorities have encouraged them to buy tickets in groups (normally with 10 or more people) so they can get tickets before the official date when tickets begin to be released, the Ministry of Railways said.

To facilitate ticket buying, people can buy train tickets online as early as 20 days in advance starting in early January, eight days earlier than before. People can buy tickets in railway stations 18 days in advance, according to the new policy.

"In the past I usually bought train tickets at the railway station or its official agents, but now I always buy at home on my computer," said Wang Ying, a white-collar worker from East China's Anhui province, who works in Beijing.

"It saves me a lot of time. But still I found it very difficult to get a ticket before the Spring Festival, and all the tickets to my hometown seemed to be gone in a flash after they started selling online."

Despite the convenience of online buying, many migrant workers, who often lack basic computer skills, found it hard to get a ticket online.

Li Jun, a migrant worker who works in a restaurant in Beijing, said he finally got a ticket back home to Chengdu, Sichuan province, after visiting the Beijing Railway Station several times.

"I heard it's easier to get a ticket booking on the computer, but I don't know how to use the computer," he said. "Luckily, I live near the railway station, so I can keep coming here to try and finally I got one."

"It has always been very difficult to buy train tickets in recent years, not only for migrant workers, but also for all other groups such as white-collar workers," said Liu Xiao, a researcher in Beijing's Anbound Consultancy.

"The root cause is the gap between supply and demand of train travel services," Liu said. "So we cannot blame the online booking for causing some migrant workers difficulty buying tickets."

Despite the great development of the railway network, China's railway capacity still cannot meet the surging demand during the peak traffic season, due to billions of trips being made within a very short period of time, an official of the Ministry of Railways told Xinhua.

"In the long run, balanced economic development among different regions can help reduce the need for immigration and can ultimately ease competition for buying train tickets during the Spring Festival period," said Liu.

(China Daily 01/28/2013 page7)