Almost 3 bln trips in 40 days tests China's travel services
China's most celebrated national holiday - Spring Festival - is just weeks away and the annual scramble for air and rail tickets is in full swing for hundreds of millions of Chinese who will travel home in the world's largest mass movement of people.
This year, chunyun, or the Spring Festival travel rush will again test China's travel services with an expected 2.98 billion trips, a slight increase over last year, according to the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC).
This year's Spring Festival falls on February 16, and chunyun will last for 40 days, from February 1 to March 12.
Train tickets can only be purchased 30 days in advance of departure.
This year, the NDRC estimates train trips will see an 8.8 percent increase to 388 million, and the number of trips by air is expected to increase by 10 percent over the previous year, Lian Weiliang, deputy head of the NDRC said during a meeting on chunyun on January 8.
On January 12, train travel bookings set a record high with 10.3 million tickets sold online by China Railway's website 12306.cn.
During the first half of January, more than 133 million train tickets were sold both online and at ticketing offices. Online purchases through 12306.cn made up more than 77 percent of total sales, while about a quarter of the travelers are buying their tickets in the traditional way of lining up at train station ticket windows.
Lower education and income are holding back these travelers from buying their tickets with just a few clicks on a smart phone or computer, said Bai Ming, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation.
Hoping to get lucky
There were more than 20 people waiting outside a special ticket service window at the Shanghai Railway Station before it official opened at 3 pm.
A station employee, surnamed Shi told the Global Times that the number of people making purchases at ticket windows has increased with the approach of the holiday. Most of them are seniors and migrant workers who don't know how to buy online or simply distrust the method. Others had come to the train station because tickets for their planned travel date had been sold out online.
"I came here hoping to get lucky after I failed to buy tickets online to return to my hometown of Chongqing," a migrant worker surnamed Yue told the Global Times.
"I know how to buy tickets online and I've tried before but failed, now I only trust ticket windows," said another.
Some travelers who booked their trips online are complaining the system isn't entirely fair.
A woman surnamed Shan tried to book her ticket from Beijing to Ji'nan, East China's Shandong Province, but the online system said tickets for that destination were sold out 10 minutes after they became available.
Her solution was to buy a more expensive ticket on the same train all the way to Shanghai, but she'll disembark at the Ji'nan station, almost 850 kilometers before Shanghai.