Alexis Hooi

Riding on China's grand festival together

By Alexis Hooi (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-01-15 06:43
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Spring Festival, the biggest celebration in the Chinese calendar, is less than a month away.

Aside from traditional festivities, one of the main aspects of the weeklong vacation is the tremendous logistical challenge of handling the country's migrant workers, office workers and college students heading back to their hometowns for family reunions.

China's railway system alone is forecast to carry 210 million passengers during the coming peak travel season, an increase of 9.5 percent over last year's figure, according to statistics from the Ministry of Railways.

More than 55 million passengers are expected to clog up roads daily during the holiday season to support one of the largest human migrations during the year.

This year's holiday traffic peak season is expected to start from Jan 30 and last until March 30. The Spring Festival falls on Feb 14 this year.

Last year, more than 23 billion trips were made during the 40-day travel period for the holiday. No less should be expected this year.

Railway officials said 187 million passengers traveled by train during those 40 days last year, up 10.6 percent year-on-year. An average of 4.8 million people took a train trip on each of those days.

During that time last year, the Ministry of Transport reported more than 2 billion bus trips, up 4.6 percent from the previous year.

From better infrastructure to increased options, security and service personnel, the authorities are pulling out all the stops to accommodate the volume of passengers and ensure that the transport network does not crack under the strain.

Railway investment last year alone hit 600 billion yuan ($88 billion), up 79 percent year-on-year and more than the total from 1995 to 2005, the Ministry of Railways reported.

Other than rail, ongoing improvements in roads to support long-distance travel will also help the network cope with the increased demand.

With the crippling blizzards that hit the central and southern regions in January 2008 in mind, the transport sector is certainly keeping its fingers crossed for smooth travel during this year's holiday amid the cold weather.

Still, there are other ways for a maelstrom to break out from within during the peak season.

Rumblings can already be heard from the recent announcement to implement an ID-based train ticket booking system, designed to prevent scalpers from their usual stockpiling of tickets.

From Jan 30 to Feb 13, the eve of Spring Festival, passengers will have to present their ID cards or other forms of identification when buying train tickets at 37 railway stations in Guangdong, Sichuan, Hunan and Guizhou provinces.

But many fear the new regulation will seriously delay the purchase of tickets at hugely overcrowded station booths.

Those who have the experience of personally buying a ticket from a train station know that results from the latest move can be disastrous. Amid the catastrophic snowstorms two years ago, a stampede by passengers - frustrated over a standstill in the train station of Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong - killed a woman migrant worker.

The thought of crazed, inconsiderate masses swarming major train stations and bus depots this year can be harrowing for foreign and domestic travelers alike - and enough to destroy any festive mood.

That is why Spring Festival might be the right time to remind travelers of the virtues of patience and tolerance toward others, on top of the more tangible preparations to beef up transport infrastructure and services.

There could be no better occasion to raise public awareness and understanding among fellow passengers of the importance of civic-consciousness in travel and beyond, to help lay the foundations for a gracious society befitting a country on the road to greater economic development and global influence.