It’s been called the largest annual migration in the world: the Chinese New Year travel rush. Every year, millions of Chinese travel across the country to celebrate the start of a new lunar year with family members; and for most Chinese people, travelling via the country’s rail network is the only way to get home for the holiday.
Historically, the only way to buy a train ticket in China has been to wait in line at a train station or ticket agent office. With tickets available only 10 days in advance, and demand running high, many travellers can find themselves waiting in line overnight in the cold, sometimes for multiple days, in order to secure a ticket. Complicating matters are much-hated scalpers, who snap up tickets ahead of the crowds and resell them at inflated prices.
This year however, the country’s railway ministry introduced a series of long-awaited reforms meant to alleviate some of the head-aches that have long been associated with buying train tickets during the busy season. Notably, travellers would be able to buy tickets online, at the Railway Ministry’s service website, www.12306.cn, or over the phone 12 days ahead of travelling. Furthermore, travellers would be required to submit their real names, much like with air tickets, in order to curb ticket scalping.
Unfortunately though, as the Chinese media widely reported today, heavy user demand has overwhelmed the bandwidth of the new booking system website and built-in time limits on online transactions have creating new problems for would-be travellers.
One woman, surnamed Duan, told the Beijing News that she tried unsuccessfully more than 10 times to access the ticketing website, before opting to purchase her tickets via telephone, which many of the country’s netizens claim is the more reliable way to get a ticket. Although she met with busy lines several times, Duan was eventually successful in purchasing transportation for the holiday. “From start to finish”, Duan claims, “I spent about an hour and a half.”
Many other travellers though have had much less success, especially those who proceeded with online ticket purchasing. According to the China Daily, dozens of people nationwide have reported that they have been charged for tickets that were not issued. Originally, all ticket transactions performed on 12306.cn had to be completed within 20 minutes. If this time limit was exceeded the user would still be charged and the ticket would return to the pool of available tickets.
According to the latest reports, the Railway Ministry is working on increasing the bandwidth to the 12306 website, and has extended the time-out limit to 45 minutes. Those who were charged for tickets that were not issued have also been promised refunds within 15 days. Despite these promises, complaints and frustration against the country’s fledgling online ticketing system continues to run high on the country’s internet forums and social networking sites.
At present, 12306.cn has more than 8 million registered users, a figure that will undoubtedly grow as the Chinese New Year approaches. Last year, it was estimated that over 2.8 billion passenger trips were conducted during the New Year’s travel rush. As wages rise and travel becomes a more important part of the Chinese economy, passenger trips are also expected to increase this New Year.
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