n January 12, a migrant couple These public outcries come every year as move all barriers to the smooth purchase of in Foshan, Guangdong were ar- hundreds of millions of Chinese vie for a train tickets during the Spring Festival rush. rested after police discovered limited number of train tickets prior to the This pledge has been made before. In they had been illegally selling train tickets Spring Festival rush, the largest annual hu- 2007, the MoR promised to have solved the to other migrant workers, adding a 10 yuan man migration in history. ticket supply issue by 2010. In 2009, this was (US$1.6) service charge to each purchase. The MoR, despite opening hundreds of adjusted to 2012. In 2011, the deadline was However, a public outpouring of sympathy new lines, investing heavily in high-speed extended to 2015. for the couple, who defended their actions rail, moving its bricks-and-mortar ticket While online retail has largely eliminated by claiming that, with neither Internet access purchase and distribution system online and the vast queues which formerly appeared nor free time to stand in line to acquire these releasing batches of tickets incrementally in outside official ticket resale agencies and at all-important pieces of paper, there was no the weeks leading up to the rush, has never railroad stations across China in the run-up other way for impoverished migrant workers managed to escape blame for the continuing to the festival, many in sub-zero conditions, to get home. difficulties faced by travelers during this brief it has added a whole new raft of problems However, while rogue ticket agents were period. All the goodwill the Ministry has to the MoR to-do list. While the physiearning public support, China’s powerful earned for improvements made to China’s cal queues may have died down, demand Ministry of Railways (MoR) found itself sub- vast rail network, the world’s longest and remains as strong as ever. On January 15, ject to intense scrutiny. Its recently launched most-trafficked, evaporates over the course of 2013, 12306.cn became the busiest and online ticket purchasing service, funneled a month, as, regardless of the number of in- most overloaded website in the world, with through the website 12306.cn, was plagued novations or restrictions introduced, millions the State-owned Xinhua News Agency reby technical faults as millions of people com- still fail to secure a ticket home. porting 1.51 billion hits on the website on peted for tickets. that day alone. On January 22, amid a Of these 1.5 billion, 17 milHow are the Chinese getting their hands on train tickets? cacophony of consumer lion users finally managed to complaints, two purchasing log in, purchasing over 2.6 Automated ticketing machine contracts between the MoR million tickets, or one ticket and one of its suppliers were secured for every 577 hits. disclosed online by an invesWhen ticket agents and teletigative reporter named Zhou sales are factored in, a total of Xiaoyun. Zhou used previous6.95 million train tickets were 4.5% Over the counter ly publicized documents and sold on January 15, meaning independent sources to show 38.2 percent of these were that the MoR had spent over online sales. Also, the traffic MoR 35.9% 500 million yuan on 12306. to 12306.cn had seen a daily website cn, the website being targeted increase by 20 percent in the 52.1% by disgruntled would-be travweek before January 15. With elers. word getting out that tickets 7.5% Consumers reported error were disappearing fast, the messages whenever they tried traffic was growingly heavier in to access the MoR website. Fithe following days. nally gaining access after severAccording to a Xinhua inTelephone al hours, More often than not terview with Wei Ruiming, all tickets would be sold out. vice-director of the Operations Other news outlets reported Department of the Transport that some enterprising hackers had managed 1.51 Billion Hits Bureau of the MoR, this year’s Spring Festival The MoR has so far failed to deliver on re- passenger traffic volume will hit 3.4 billion to bypass the online booking system’s firewall and reserve tickets before they officially went peated pledges to eradicate the competition journeys, equivalent to everyone in China for tickets during the Spring Festival rush. taking two separate journeys. 220 million of on sale. Those who attempted to book their tickets According to a 2011 interview with vice these journeys will be by rail, an increase of through the MoR telephone booking system minister Wang Zhiguo, the Chinese govern- 4.6 percent on 2012. With this year’s Spring Festival peak travel fared little better, with operators unreachable ment’s 12th Five Year Plan, which officially concludes in 2015, included a pledge to re- season lasting for 40 days – from January 26 for days in some cases.
CHINA WEEKLY I March 2013
April 2013 Issue