The most important holiday of the year in China is just around the corner, falling this year on Jan. 31. Seemingly everyone in China is planning on traveling home to be with their families for the Chinese New Year—if they can get the tickets.
The New Year travel period started Thursday and will last 40 days. Already, people are complaining about tickets not being available.
The passenger traffic during this period is expected to reach 3.6 billion trips, 200 million more than last year, according to Lian Weiliang, vice chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, in a Tuesday press conference.
There is huge pressure on the transportation system, and it can not satisfy demand during the peak travel time, according to Lian. Tickets to many places are difficult to get, and snow, low temperature, and even heavy smog will interfere with transportation during the period, Lian said.
Train tickets during the New Year period are available online and by phone 20 days before the departure day. Tickets are also available at train stations, but a few days after the Internet release, and so a lot of people go online. Since the first day tickets were released on Dec. 28, there has been a huge rush for tickets.
“Why can’t I find any ticket?” is the most often asked question, said Kuang Xin, a college student who volunteers at the Railway Customer Center in southern China’s Guangdong Province, “There are even colleagues of mine who have been scolded to the point of crying.”
The Guangdong Railway Customer Center receives on average 20,000 phone calls every day during the travel period. A large number of the calls are complaining about not being able to get tickets for the New Year, according to the Guangdong newspaper Southern Metropolis Daily.
For some train lines, tickets were all sold during the first couple of hours after the release. The website of China Railway Customer Service Center , where people order their tickets, has often crashed during the peak hours of online purchases, according to travelers.
8 Cities in 6 Provinces
A Chinese teacher’s ticket-purchasing nightmare went viral on the Chinese media. She failed to buy a direct train ticket for her and her daughter, and ended up buying an itinerary in which she transfers in 8 cities in 6 provinces.
Mrs. Sun, who lives in Shenzhen in Guangdong Province, planned to take her 7-year-old daughter to visit her parents, who live in northern China’s Shenyang City, according to Guangdong’s official Yangcheng Evening News.
Planning on leaving on Jan. 20, Mrs. Sun started to try to buy tickets on Jan. 1, when the tickets were just released. “I was thoroughly prepared with my family and my friends, in order to get train tickets to go home,” Mrs. Sun said, “However, we tried for several mornings, but all failed to get a ticket to Shenyang.”
Mrs. Sun said she was helpless, because every day around 9am, the ticket website crashed due to too much traffic.
Eventually, Mrs. Sun bought six train tickets and a cruise ticket that will take 12 days to get home instead of the 35 hours a direct train takes. The tickets costs 1337.5 yuan ($221), more than twice the cost of a 600 yuan ($99) train ticket. Mrs. Sun said she will take this trip as a tour with her daughter to show her the country.
Illegal ticket scalpers are making the situation worse. News about scalpers, nicknamed “yellow cows” by the Chinese, always comes out during this time of year. Proverbially, yellow cows are good for eating but not for doing work. Like those cows, the scalpers get fat without having to do very much.
The traffickers are able to purchase a lot of train tickets ahead of the travelers and sell them at a higher price to earn the difference.
This year a new software is reportedly being used for illegally purchasing tickets. It successfully purchased 1,245 train tickets online in just 10 minutes after the tickets were released, according to the Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece China Central Television.
The software produces fake ID numbers and names to buy tickets online with a speed of purchasing one ticket every few milliseconds.
A large number of people who travel by train during the New Year are migrant workers who are not rich and are trying to save money. However, the ticket shortages have forced many of them to take exhausting alternatives to train travel.
According to the Yangcheng Evening News, a number of Chinese people have walked hundreds of miles, some drove motorcycles, and some even drove tractors, simply trying to get home.