China / Society

Cards to ease travel for foreigners

By Zhao Yinan ( Updated: 2012-07-23 07:11

Foreigners are likely to find it easier to travel between Beijing and Tianjin, municipalities in North China, with the help of "expresspay cards" that were introduced on Saturday.

Foreign commuters can take the cards to special electronic sensors installed on turnstiles in railway stations and use them to buy tickets and check in for their trips. Before now, such travelers had to pay for their journeys either at ticket windows or online.

The cards were issued by the Ministry of Railways and Bank of China and were put into use on Saturday.

Foreigners with valid passports can apply for permission to use the plastic cards, which will be encoded with identifying information, and can be loaded with money in advance for buying tickets.

Applications for the cards can be submitted either to the Beijing Southern Railway Station or at five selected offices of the Bank of China in Beijing. The forms should be filled in with applicants' full names, passport numbers and telephone numbers. Travelers can call 95566 or 4008-368-368 for more information.

Robin Tsukada, a Japanese student at Tsinghua University whose parents live in Tianjin, said he has had trouble buying a ticket to Beijing, especially true on weekend evenings, when he tends to travel.

"Foreigners cannot buy tickets at automated ticket-selling machines," he said. "The machines don't recognize passports. And I can stand for hours at a window to get a single ticket during rush hour."

He said the cards will allow commuters to catch a train whenever they arrive at a railway station instead of restricting them to the train they bought the ticket for.

The high-speed trains that shuttle between Beijing and Tianjin, China's first intercity trains to travel at speeds of up to 300 km an hour, were introduced in 2008, just ahead of the Olympic Games. They take about 30 minutes to go from one city to the other.

About 200 trains travel the routes from 6:30 am to 11 pm daily. Even so, some passengers have to wait for hours before they can get a train on weekends and public holidays.

Besides the trains running between Beijing and Tianjin, travelers can also take the cards to the Ministry of Railways' sales website and ticket offices that have point-of-sale equipment to buy tickets for other routes.

Taiwan residents who have Mainland Travel Permit for Taiwan Residents can also apply for the cards.

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