China Daily on the new online dynamic of getting a train ride home during China’s most important time of year.
– – –
MOR rails against ticket plug-in chaos
By Zhang Zihan and Li Cong
Source – Global Times, published January 21, 2013
Web browser providers have denied earlier reports that they had been ordered to stop providing plug-ins for buying train tickets, which the Ministry of Railways (MOR) said had caused a huge amount of traffic to flood its online ticketing system ahead of the Spring Festival travel rush.
“So far, we haven’t received any request from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), and our plug-in is running as usual,” Li Ping, a public relations officer from Kingsoft, a software provider, told the Global Times on Sunday, refuting a report from China National Radio.
China Central Television also reported that other browser providers including Maxthon and Qihoo 360 all denied receiving orders from MIIT, while the ministry has not yet responded.
The MOR last week complained that the services would add extra pressure to its online ticketing system, and warned that buyers’ personal information could be leaked.
An engineer surnamed Sun from Kingsoft’s browser department denied receiving such complaints.
“We designed this plug-in to help ticket buyers and shutting the website down would bring us no good,” Sun told the Global Times. “The code of our plug-in is open to the public. Anyone who thinks it’s unsafe is welcome to submit it to security experts.”
Li Weimin, secretary-general of the Consumer Protection Committee of the Beijing Lawyers Association, told the Global Times that he sees no reason to stop the practice if the browser providers are only using available resources within legal frameworks to provide convenience to consumers.
The MOR should focus on how to solve the difficulties in purchasing tickets online rather than banning these plug-ins, said Li Weimin.
Currently, train tickets are available from local train stations, authorized ticket offices or via the official phone and online ticketing system.
The online ticketing system went into operation at the end of 2011, and 330 million yuan ($53 million) was reportedly spent on upgrades in September 2012. Despite the huge investment, the site went down many times during the Spring Festival travel rush and National Day holiday of 2012 due to excessive numbers of visitors.
The online ticketing system is also blamed for making it harder to buy tickets for migrant workers, who normally don’t have access to the Internet but make up a large proportion of the annual migration.
According to the MOR, migrant workers can buy round-trip tickets in groups, either online or at local railway stations. However, the group-tickets service requires certification from employers and at least 10 tickets to one destination on the same day, which puts the service out of reach of people who are self-employed.
The railway police in Guangdong Province last week detained a couple for scalping after they were found to have been helping local migrant workers buy tickets online at an extra cost of 10 yuan for each ticket.
However, many people believed the couple’s actions were acceptable and the extra fee was reasonable, compared with the 5-yuan cost charged by authorized ticket offices.
Queuing in a long line at the Beijing Railway Station, a migrant worker surnamed Lü said that he would welcome such a service.
Lü, who came from Henan Province and worked as a cook in Beijing for more than 10 years, admitted that tickets have been easier to buy since the MOR started a real-name ticket system at the beginning of 2012, but migrant workers still have few channels to buy tickets.
“I don’t have a computer and I don’t know how to use one either. And the phone service is hardly any use,” said Lü, adding that last year he queued for four hours to buy a standing ticket. “That was already very lucky for me,” he added.
The MOR said in an email to the Global Times that even though additional temporary train services will be used to relieve the burden, “During Spring Festival holiday, the travel capacity is still not enough to meet the huge demand.”
Statistics from the MOR showed that over 5.6 million people are expected to travel by train each day during the 40-day travel rush, which begins on Saturday.
But the scheduled daily rail transport capacity is around 4.8 million, which means that about 800,000 passengers will not be able to get a ticket home each day during the busiest travel period.
In addition to insufficient capacity, people have called for train tickets to be made available in an open and circulating market.
Wu Bihu, a professor at Peking University, commented on his Sina Weibo account that the selling of train tickets still remains under the “planned economy system,” while flight ticket sales have already gone onto the market.
Mao Lixin, a Beijing-based lawyer, commented on Weibo that the selling of train tickets has been monopolized by railway authorities to maintain their interests, noting that such a monopoly should be broken up soon.
Xiao Wenbin, a Beijing-based lawyer, submitted an application to the MOR on Saturday, asking to make public train ticket statistics during the annual Spring Festival travel rush.
“We hope to acquire the total ticket numbers, the reserved ticket numbers and other statistics. By doing this, we hope to figure out whether the MOR has kept tickets for its own people,” Xiao told the Global Times.
The MOR hasn’t replied to his application, Xiao said.