Critics query ID policy for buying train tickets

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 January, 2010, 12:00am

The new policy on train ticket purchases has sparked a debate over the Ministry of Railways' motivation for implementing it as the Lunar New Year travel period approaches.

Passengers will be required to give identity information when they buy tickets at 37 stations of the Guangzhou and Chengdu railway bureaus, according to the ministry, which announced the pilot programme at the weekend.

Railway staff will also double-check passengers' identity cards with tickets when they enter railway stations, and those without proper documents would not be allowed in, according to the policy.

The move, which aims to reduce mass ticket purchases by scalpers and the manufacture of fake tickets, was welcomed by respondents to a Shanghai Morning Post survey of 76 people. Sixty-five, or 86 per cent, believed the new system could at least partly solve the problem.

While some policy analysts applauded the move, they also said it was surprising to see railway authorities launch an idea that had been repeatedly rejected. Supporters of such a move have previously said ID cards or other documents should be presented when buying tickets.

Others questioned the motivation for the new policy.

'Just early last year, [railway authorities] said the idea was impossible,' said Tong Dahuan, a Beijing-based columnist who has been following the issue. 'I personally think it is not a victory of public opinion but of interests inside the government.'

Tong pointed out that President Hu Jintao had publicly urged the ministry and Vice-Premier Zhang Dejiang, who is responsible for transport, to find ways of improving railway services early last year.

The new policy will present a big challenge in enforcement, both for ticket purchases and entry to railway stations. Tens of millions of passengers, many of them migrant workers, travel by train to their hometowns each year to celebrate the Lunar New Year holiday with their families.

Transport chaos caused by snowstorms in central China two years ago stranded more than 800,000 passengers in Guangzhou, the railway hub of the Pearl River Delta.

'Local authorities worried about similar chaos might also have asked the central government to help prevent the same problem,' Tong said. 'That's why Guangzhou was chosen as one of two places for the pilot programme.'

Peng Peng, a researcher at the Guangzhou Academy of Social Sciences, said the new policy could help ease tension between passengers and the railway ministry even though the timing of its launch it was a surprise.

He said the new policy would cost boarding passengers much more time, 'so some people are saying that railway authorities are using it as a tactic to shuffle passengers to the newly launched Wuhan -Guangzhou high-speed railway' to get home faster.

According to the Railway Ministry's statement, passengers choosing the high-speed railway will not need to provide identity information when they pass through security checks, Peng said.