Why is it so Hard to Get a Train Ticket Home During the Spring Festival?

With the Chinese New Year coming up in couple of weeks, a vast majority of Chinese migrant workers are going on a battle to return home. With the demand for train tickets and plane tickets significantly increasing before the holiday season, and tickets are now becoming a scarce resource that everyone is fighting for.

According to Chinese state media Xinhua, the country’s railway system has sold over 200 million tickets since Dec. 23rd, when the holiday season tickets were first available. On average, over 13.3 million train tickets were sold per day. The number has increased by 16.6 percent compared to last year.

It became a huge cash flow for swindlers, who add on a huge service fee to the tickets they sell. For many travelers, getting a ticket seems impossible: With the official booking platform always being fully booked, some travelers will take their chances with swindlers to ensure that they have a ticket to go home. With many of the ticket selling services going on online, swindlers are transforming their services into online swindling software. Instead of lining up for tickets at the ticketing booth, swindlers now utilize their own software to buy train tickets ahead of everyone else.

source: xinhuanet

It becomes a vicious cycle: With more swindling software occupying the limited number of tickets, travelers are going to find it hard to buy tickets. And as a result, they will visit the website more often, which brings more unnecessary traffic to the website, causing serious pressure on the website server. On average, travelers will now need to pay more and devote more time to the ticket purchase process.

To address these concerns, Chinese railway developed a stand-by purchase feature starting from this year. Travelers can pre-authorize a payment to cover their ticket expense. Should someone return their tickets, these stand-by purchases will go into effect, saving the time and effort for travelers to constantly check the website for available tickets.

Reports from China News Agency suggest that the new feature has been effective in combating swindlers who are interfering with the market, and the report lists swindlers who quit the business because of the lowered profits and increasing costs. One swindler even said that ”unless you have a very strong team, you don’t stand a chance. Smaller teams and individuals should quit the business, it won’t cover the costs.”

While most people hate swindlers for moral reasons. However, despite the negative public opinions that swindlers receive, they nevertheless offer a service that is in increasing demand. While most service users may not want to pay the high price, swindlers can help securing a train ticket to go home. There is no question that swindling on state-run train tickets shouldn’t be allowed, but there should be no doubt that swindling services is of actual value to travellers.

China has more electrified railroads for its high speed trains than any other country in the world. But facing the massive temporary migration movement that happens nearly twice a year, even double the size of the country’s railroad length might not ensure that every person has a ticket.

It is the same thing for local city traffic: It is not really about the width of the road that helps decongesting traffic jams, but the number of cars driving these routes. There is rarely traffic at 3am, but many cities are likely to see some serious traffic issues at 5pm when people drive home from work. China’s holiday season migration suffers from the same problem: It is the time of the year when everyone returns home. It is not necessarily an indication of their eager willingness to go home, but a lack of choice of taking a vacation at another time.

The essence of the Chinese New Year week-long break and the National Holiday week-long break, or in Chinese words, the golden weeks, is to ensure that most of the country’s work force have at least two weeks of vacation each year. Unlike developed countries with higher welfare standards, it is rather difficult for Chinese authorities to ensure all employers comply with higher labor standards such as allowing employees to take paid vacations. The predicament makes it hard for the Chinese working class to go on vacations at a time of their choice: There is no guarantee their company will allow it.

It is the lower labor standards that lead to the travel havoc during the Chinese New Year. The tradition also intensified the sentiment that one should return home during the one-week long holidays. Yet, with train tickets becoming a struggle for many families, reverse travelling has become a new way of spending the holiday seasons. Instead of having the working class sons and daughters return home, the elders from home are coming to metropolitan areas to see their children. And reverse travelling might even have some positive side effects: From unwelcoming relatives to lack of things to do during the holiday seasons, paying a visit to larger cities might be the better choice.

As we move into a faster and more vibrant economy, many of the traditions are trimmed to fit the modern day economy. The Chinese New Year celebration used to be a one-month thing, and now it is shortened to one week. With serious travelling issues that show no signs of improvement, people’s choices during the holiday seasons will certainly start to change in the upcoming years.

Featured photo credit to nanrenwo.net