Rail Ticket Prices to Climb

The majority of the 33 delegates representing public consumers at the country's first central government-sponsored public hearing on the price of railway tickets on Saturday gave consent to a proposal that would raise train ticket prices, but they urged pricing authorities to give careful consideration to non- or low-income groups such as students, farmers and migrant labourers.

The two-part hearing, which lasted for six hours, became a platform for passenger representatives to criticize the poor service provided by the railway companies.

The State's top pricing authorities, the State Development Planning Commission (SDPC), will continue having a decisive say in the pricing mechanism used for rail transport, as the Ministry of Railways is currently not a totally independent regulator due to its deep involvement in the operations of some railway companies.

The Ministry of Railways applied for permission last December to include a market-tailored pricing mechanism when setting railway transport prices.

More than half of the 33 representatives agreed with the ministry's 153-page application to float the price of rail tickets during high and low transportation periods, though a few raised doubts over the ministry's financial report.

Chen Huai, a renowned researcher with the Research Centre under the State Council said pricing leverage is the most efficient way to control the volume of passenger traffic during the busy seasons, including Spring Festival and other public holidays.

"I agree with the application in principle but the detailed measures need more consideration," Chen stated in his testimony at the hearing, which attracted about 200 journalists from home and abroad.

Chen suggested a hierarchical ticket-pricing structure tailored to the purchasing power of different passengers.

Prices of tickets for a soft-berth carriage with air conditioning, a berth carriage, a soft-seat with air conditioning, a soft seat, a hard seat and a standing room ticket should be increased anywhere from zero to 80 per cent, according to Chen. But the ministry demanded a 30 per cent price increase for hard and soft seats and a 20 per cent hike for berths during busy seasons.

Zhou Shunwu from Beijing, stated at the hearing that the ministry's financial report raised doubts among the 33 representatives.

"The ministry said their enterprises as a whole are still in the red but their financial data was submitted by enterprises at different levels; we are not authorized at this time to examine their financial situation," said Zhou.

(China Daily January 14, 2002)

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