Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Spare a thought for migrants this festival

By Wang Yiqing (China Daily) Updated: 2013-01-17 08:14

Spare a thought for migrants this festival

Migrant workers said they feel sad for a couple in Foshan, Guangdong province, who were detained on Monday for booking train tickets online and selling them to migrants desperate to return home for Spring Festival by charging just 10 yuan extra. They believe the couple have been wronged by being branded "scalpers", because they were actually helping migrant workers get the elusive train ticket.

The couple indeed have to be punished according to law. But then the authorities should take measures to ensure migrant workers get train tickets without all the hassles and tensions.

Migrant workers, who comprise the majority of the passengers and suffer the most during Spring Festival, find it even harder to book a train ticket after the Ministry of Railways launched the online ticketing service last year.

The online ticketing service was expected to help passengers to book tickets more conveniently and faster. But ironically this so-called people-friendly measure did not factor in the group that needs train tickets the most during Spring Festival.

Trains have always been migrant workers' first choice to return home during Spring Festival because train tickets are comparatively cheap. But a majority of migrant workers cannot buy tickets online because they do not have computers or cannot access the Internet. Even if migrant workers can access the Internet, a large number of them are not tech-savvy enough to book a train ticket online without help.

Moreover, the online ticketing system requires passengers to pay for tickets online, but very few migrant workers, especially the elderly, know anything about e-banking and are reluctant to purchase tickets online for fear of being cheated.

Students of the Shanghai Institute of Foreign Trade conducted a survey among migrant workers last September. More than 90 percent of the respondents preferred taking a train back home and almost 80 percent of them said they would do so by buying tickets from a ticket office. Also, 70 percent of them said they were not familiar with the online ticketing procedure and only 18 percent had tried using the online ticketing service. The sample size of the survey might not have been big enough, but it reflected migrant workers' attitude toward the online ticketing service and the difficulties they face.

The priority accorded to online ticketing by the Ministry of Railways has exacerbated migrant workers' difficulty in buying train tickets. Sale of tickets for a given date opens two days before they can be purchased from a ticket counter. Compared with people with easy access to the Internet, migrant workers, who are most sensitive to price and most eager to get a train ticket but face the greatest difficulty in booking one, thus lose out at the starting line to buy a ticket.

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