Zhu Zhenghuai from Hunan province, the first passenger to buy real-name tickets for the Wuhan-Guangzhou high-speed railway, shows his tickets at a ticket office in Guangzhou on Monday. Lu Hanxin / Xinhua
GUANGZHOU - Australian David Brown felt completely lost in the hall of the Guangzhou Railway Station, in the capital city of Guangdong province, on Monday, watching thousands of people forming long lines to buy tickets.
"I had no idea where so many people came from, and I had heard nothing of the mass passenger transportation in China when I was in Australia," the 28-year-old said.
Earlier this month, Brown traveled from Yunnan province to Guangzhou. He is planning to leave for Nanning in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region on Monday. He decided to take a long-distance bus after seeing the crush for railway tickets.
On Sunday, railways stations across the country began selling tickets for the peak travel season of the traditional Chinese New Year, which lasts 40 days from Jan 19 to Feb 27.
The transport sectors and the Chinese passengers seemed to be better prepared than Brown.
Since the Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, is the most important Chinese festival for family reunions, most people return home from work or study during this season, which is called chunyun in Chinese.
During the 2011 chunyun there will be 2.56 billion bus journeys, up 11.6 percent from 2010, and 230 million train trips, up 12.5 percent from last year, the ministries of transport and railways have predicted.
The Guangzhou Railway Station opened all its 20 ticket booths, built six tents outside the hall as waiting areas, and transferred 70 staff members from railway management companies to maintain order at the booths.
Cai Mingjun, one of the order-keepers, said that all the staff were in place by Sunday, but the huge numbers of passengers still exceeded their expectations.
"But this is not yet peak time. We should make really serious preparation for Jan 19, when chunyun begins," Cai said.
In Shanghai, 850 ticket offices and 160 automatic ticket machines were selling train tickets all over the city.
Last week, to prevent ticket scalping, the Shanghai railway police cleared up 276 scalping operations, seizing 544 suspects and 2,945 train tickets worth more than 420,000 yuan ($50,600).
In Central China, the Wuhan railways bureau introduced a real-name ticket system on Monday to curb scalping.
The system requires travelers to use their ID cards, or other personal identity papers, to book tickets, as occurred during the 2010 Spring Festival in some cities.
Jiang Qi, a resident in Wuhan, went to the railway station at 6 am and bought the city's first real-name ticket at 8:30 am.
"It took me only two minutes to buy a ticket - just show my ID card, scan it on an identification instrument, and print the ticket," Jiang said.
The passenger's ID number and name are printed on the bottom left of the ticket, and an inspector will check it when the ticket holder enters the station.
The system will also be used in some railway lines in Xi'an in Shaanxi province, Chengdu in Sichuan province, and Guangzhou.
Despite the measures against scalping, passengers still find it very difficult to buy tickets during chunyun.
"It's still very hard to buy tickets during the peak period, although the whole booking system and conditions for train tickets have been improved," said Yang Shuifeng, a female migrant worker in Shanghai who failed to get a train ticket back home for Jan 20 after waiting for hours on Monday.
She had to come back to the ticket booth early on Tuesday morning for a ticket for Jan 21.
Demand for buses, an alternative choice for passengers who failed to get a train ticket, went wild even earlier.
"On Jan 1 we started selling bus tickets with a 24-hour service," said Zhang Yongbin, director of Shanghai General Long-Distance Bus Station.
By Monday afternoon, the station had sold 40,000 tickets to more than 100 destinations.
(China Daily 01/11/2011 page3)