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Make buying train tickets easy for all in need

Updated: 2014-12-10 08:02
By Wu Yixue (China Daily)

The 60-day advance booking period for train tickets during next year's chunyun period (the Spring Festival travel season) will make it easier for some people to travel home for the all-important annual family get-together and return to work, but it may not bring convenience to all.

According to the new ticket sales system adopted by China Railway Corporation, which operates the country's railway network, passengers can book train tickets through the Internet or over the phone 60 days in advance for the chunyun period. The travel peak period for the Lunar New Year, which falls on Feb 19, will begin on Feb 4 and last until March 16.

The 60-day pre-sale period is a vast improvement on the earlier provision of allowing passengers to book tickets only 20 days in advance. Also, passengers will no longer have to pay any charge for canceling their tickets up to 15 days before a train's departure.

The 60-day pre-sale period for train tickets is expected to save a large number of passengers the trouble of queuing up for hours at railway stations or spend precious time with ticket agents to book a train ticket. It will also increase many passengers' chances of getting a ticket for the chunyun period and reduce the pressure on traditional sales facilities. Besides, the 60-day advance booking period could prevent the frequent collapse of official online and phone ticket-booking systems because of heavy traffic.

But since the 20-day advance booking period for tickets purchased at railway stations or through authorized travel agents remains unchanged, the new system will help a select group of people - those adept at using the Internet and apps. Also, such a long pre-sale period could create a dilemma for people who cannot decide their travel plans two months in advance. For example, a sudden change in work schedules can force some people to change their travel plans and thus render their advance bookings useless. To overcome this problem, some netizens have suggested that people book multiple tickets for different dates in advance. By doing so, they would keep their options open and cancel the tickets that do not suit their travel plans. This sounds a good idea for tech-savvy passengers but not for those whose only concern is to get a ticket home.

That cancellations will be free if done 15 days in advance will certainly prompt many people to book multiple tickets. But it will also create an artificial shortage of tickets initially because one person would be booking tickets for multiple journeys and canceling the "not-needed" ones only at a later date. Moreover, the frequent (and unnecessary) bookings and cancellations will overburden the online booking system and could cause it to collapse.

The fact that the railway authorities have not extended the advance booking period for tickets purchased at railway stations and through travel agents is unfair to aged people and migrant workers who usually use them to book train tickets.

Despite the government's tangible efforts to promote a paid holiday system among employees, Chinese people still believe Spring Festival is the best time for family reunion and thus create a massive and rigid demand for travel across the country during the chunyun period. The railway authorities have taken several measures - for example, adopting real-name ticket system and increasing the number of trains - to ease the pressure of traffic during the chunyun period, but for many, getting train tickets to their destinations during Spring Festival remains a big problem.

Statistics show about 266 million train trips were made during the 2014 chunyun period, up 12 percent from the previous year. To ease the pressure on the railway network during next year's chunyun period, China Railway Corporation plans to run 3,063 pairs of trains, 335 pairs more than in 2014.

But at a time when some tech-savvy passengers have mastered the art of booking tickets through the Internet or mobile apps, the railway authorities should take measures to bring convenience to other passengers' life too, as the majority of Chinese people still buy tickets at railway stations or via travel agents.

The author is a senior writer with China Daily. wuyixue@chinadaily.com.cn

Make buying train tickets easy for all in need

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