Business / Train ticket

Take tickets out of reach of scalpers

By Liu Shinan (China Daily) Updated: 2008-01-23 13:15

"The goal is to make 150,000 yuan ($20,000) before Spring Festival."

Sound like a company's sales strategy? It is actually the goal a ring of train ticket scalpers set for themselves. During a raid on the scalpers' hideout in Anbao district, Shenzhen, last Thursday, the police found the schedule tacked to the wall.

As the authorities announced last week the earlier-than-usual commencement of the chunyun (the mass transport of passengers during the Spring Festival holiday season), scalpers intensified their efforts to speculate on the train tickets desperately needed by about a tenth of the nation's population, who are eager to go home during the lunar New Year holidays.

There are no authoritative statistics about the scale of train ticket trafficking, though it has been suggested that it generates 3 billion to 4 billion yuan ($400 million to $533 million) during the 40-day chunyun , involving about a quarter of all tickets sold during the period. Going by what has been revealed by numerous media investigations, it seems that ticket trafficking has become an organized industry involving a hierarchy of scalpers arranged in various rings.

The public has come to resent these predators, even as they feel helpless in the face of what has been described as "a malignant ulcer on the artery of transportation". People have called for a "real name system" for ticket bookings, a practice that some see as a simple way to thwart speculation.

The Ministry of Railways, however, has repeatedly rejected the suggestion. Last Friday, the ministry's spokesman listed three reasons why the system could not be adopted. First, he said, it would not help enlarge the railway capacity, the insufficiency of which is the ultimate cause of the ticket shortage. Second, ID recognition would complicate the process of ticket checking and cause chaos. Third, scalpers would simply adopt other means to beat the system.

None of the reasons is convincing. The first one has nothing to do with ticket speculation, the target of the "real name" weapon. The second one is not without rationality, but the possible chaos is not absolutely unavoidable. The third reason is sheer pretext. That fact that scalpers should not be expected to suddenly mend their ways does not mean that taking measures to crack down on them will be fruitless. And the effectiveness of "real name system" in foiling the second-hand trade of tickets is obvious.

If the potential safety and ticket-checking problems caused by the adoption of the "real name system" are really too difficult to overcome, let's forget about the suggestion and concentrate our attention on another problem - where scalpers secure their stock in trade.

When asked about the widely suspected collaboration between scalpers and railway employees, the spokesman evaded, stressing the ministry's harsh disciplinary measures when it comes to dealing with malpractice.

The public's suspicion is not groundless. The fact that online ticket windows tend to close within just a few minutes of opening naturally leads to such suspicion. And media investigations have revealed that ticket agencies are often the main providers of tickets to scalper rings.

The authorities should make serious moves to monitor the process of ticket distribution. Since ticket availability can be checked online, it should not be difficult to pinpoint sudden drainages of tickets, which surely reflect suspicious behavior.

If the abnormal flow of tickets can be checked upstream, the 15,000 yuan goal of the Anbao scalpers will surely become a soap bubble.


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