Transport system bracing for annual strain
With the Lunar New Year just two weeks away, transport hubs are bracing for a record number of travellers over the 40-day holiday period, which begins today.
The central government expects more than 3.1 billion journeys to be made by bus, car, road or plane between now and February 16, a rise of 9.1 per cent from last year, according to the China News Service. That will make it the biggest movement of people in history, and will challenge the transport infrastructure, the management and safety of which can be problematic even on slow days.
For example, about 30 million passengers are expected to travel through Guangzhou - a city with 12.8 million permanent residents - while more than eight million passengers will use Shanghai's airports.
Though the government has been rapidly building high-speed railways, there are not enough trains or staff to deal with such a surge in demand. Traffic on the roads and railways and in the skies will be up to 10 times normal.
Migrant labourers, many working in coastal cities but with family in rural villages, are the single largest group of rail travellers. In the past, they carried blankets, camped for days on public squares outside train stations to get a ticket home and won much public sympathy.
Rail authorities are offering internet booking services this year to spare people from queuing in freezing weather, but migrant workers say this is next to useless as hardly any of them have access to computers.
'In the past I could get a ticket with determination and sweat,' one worker told China Central Television. 'I wouldn't know what to do on the internet.'
Some who will be able to lay their hands on a keyboard will find most seats have been sold out.
Air travellers must pay much more than usual for tickets, but suffer less from queues. Their biggest enemy will be snow. A modest snowfall in Beijing yesterday delayed flights and caused chaos at the capital's international airport.