Railways Attacked for Festival Services

The Ministry of Railways is facing mounting criticism from passengers for its arbitrary price hikes and poor service during the Spring Festival peak travel period.

China's Consumers Association has sent an inquiry letter to the ministry, demanding answers about the price increases before February 25.

The consumers' protector has asked the ministry to explain why it increased ticket prices without a public hearing, what the legal basis was for raising the prices and what the possibility was of lowering prices.

The ministry is expected to make a record income through the annual 40-day Spring Festival peak transport period, which kicked off on January 9 and ended last weekend.

Train tickets went up by 20 to 30 per cent during the period.

The price hikes have violated the law on the protection of consumers' rights, which stipulates that any government-led price changes must be discussed at public hearings before being put into operation, said Wang Qianhu, an official with the association.

"But the Ministry of Railways did not hold any such hearing," he said.

The association has the right to question government departments on inquiries raised by consumers according to the law on the protection of consumers' rights.

As well as complaints about ticket prices, some passengers wrote to the association grumbling about the poor service offered by the ministry.

"There was no hot water supply, the carriages weren't cleaned and berth carriages were crowded with people who had paid train workers extra to be allowed to stay there," Hu Xinquan, who took train home from Zhejiang's Jinhua to Zhuzhou, told the association in a letter.

The ministry should guarantee passengers safety and convenience after selling tickets to them, Hu said.

Many trains operated behind schedule, but the ministry did not apologize to passengers, he added.

Wang said his association would fight to get answers for railway passengers.

Qiao Zhanxiang, a lawyer in Hebei Province, had written to the railway ministry asking it to review its decision before the association's letter arrived.

Qiao also argued that the ministry had made its decision without a public hearing, violating the law on the protection of consumers' rights.

The Ministry of Railways has now accepted Qiao's appeal to review its decision, promising to give him an answer soon.

The railway ministry has refused to comment on the association's letter.

(China Daily 02/16/2001)

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