It is the Spring Festival travel rush again. Nothing is like going home for people who have been working thousands of miles away for a long time. Yet year after year, one thing does not change - the difficulty of securing a ticket to return home.
It is good to know that the Ministry of Railways has taken measures to help ease the strain this year, including running 1,400 extra pairs of trains on the busiest routes. It has also announced a decision to fire any railway workers who have connections with scalpers.
Yet it is still tough for many to get a ticket. The death of an elderly man queuing overnight at a Hangzhou railway station for a ticket is an extreme case; but it is also a tragic reminder of the travails.
The situation requires proper services be provided alongside transportation during the 40-day peak season. The pressure on the railway authorities to ensure a safe completion of 188 million journeys during the time is understandably heavy. Yet it should be no excuse to deny passengers basic services.
At least new practices can be introduced to alleviate the old woes with the help of online technologies.
It is disappointing to find that it is still difficult to get ticket information - in this age of information. Ticket hotlines are always busy, and railway websites are neither adequate nor updated on time. Most people have to line up in front of the ticket booths at railway stations day and night without knowing if they can get one. And they do not seem to know who can hear or answer their practical questions.
No wonder a recent online post by a netizen, who gives detailed suggestions on how to get a train ticket in Beijing, has become wildly popular. It updates daily information on routes of extra trains and practical solutions to general problems based on netizens' experiences, news, and notices of all the major railway stations.
The ministry should not take the online post lightly, for it provides an example in how to offer better services using the Internet as an efficient platform. With all its resources, the ministry should be able to run websites offering more authoritative and sophisticated information than individual netizens.
But then, being sensitive to people's suffering is the first step to better action. People are told they will no longer have a hard time getting a ticket from 2012 because more railways will be ready by then. But before then, ways have to be found to make their travel less of an ordeal.
(China Daily 01/13/2009 page8)