Sweet misery of traveling during Chinese New Year

0 CommentsPrint E-mail Global Times, January 13, 2011
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For those who reunite with their relatives, Chinese New Year can be the sweetest time of the year, and the worst time as well.

Even though the country boasts the world's longest high-speed railways, a rapidly expanding highway network and growing numbers of flights, finding a ticket home is still a huge endeavor for many.

According to the Ministry of Transport, there will be 256 million people on the move during the holiday season this year, up 11.6 percent on last year.

It is hard to imagine what a situation this will create since, even though fewer people struggle each year, plenty fail to make it home for New Year's Eve, if at all.

With three more weeks to go, the annual rush is already ferociously under way.

The train tickets became available on January 9 nationwide, but in Shanghai, a migrant worker, who was the first in his queue, failed to buy a ticket after waiting for 13 hours. It is even worse in Guangdong, which hosts the country's biggest population of migrant workers.

The situation is not better when trying to book tickets through hotlines. Most of the lines are either permanently busy or malfunctioning.

Despite an increase in the number of buses, trains and airlines, the nation's transportation capacity still lags behind the rise in passenger flow.

The prices are another headache. With the introduction of bullet trains and cuts on many slower and cheaper lines, the price of tickets is climbing, oft out of reach of a common worker's wallet.

With long-distance bus fares soaring by as much as 75 percent, air tickets are even more absurd. A round trip from Beijing to Chongqing, for example, will cost more than 3,000 yuan ($455) around the holiday, higher than an average migrant worker or graduate's monthly income.

The situation is worsened by the rampant existence of tickets scalpers, who double or even triple the cost.

More than 1,000 scalpers have been arrested in the past two weeks, according to the Ministry of Railways. But the mass of Internet touts has shown these arrests to merely be the tip of the iceberg.

As more and more people join the queue, the situation will get tougher. In future years, the passenger flow will get heavier, threatening to turn the dream holiday into a permanent nightmare.

The Spring Festival stays so busy because people attach importance to the tradition. But a respect for tradition should not become an excuse for enduring hell to get home.

How can the workers, after a year's hard work, be able to comfortably travel back home to celebrate the festival? This remains a big challenge for the government and the public.

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