As Chinese New Year approaches, demand for train tickets rises in China with many migrant workers eager to return home.
Plug-in browsers that speed up the online train ticketing process have generated a huge amount of traffic to the Ministry of Railway’s official website and caused crashes on China’s shared-hosting network servers, such as GitHub.
A representative from Jinshan Network said that they having a discussion with the ministry, but declined to elaborate.
It is not clear whether the Ministry of Railways plan to hold talks with other browser vendors.
Meanwhile, a couple in Foshan, Guangdong was arrested on Tuesday for helping migrant workers purchase train tickets with plug-in browsers. They had charged a fee of 10 yuan.
The incident sparked debate among Chinese netizens. “Many workers don’t know how to get tickets online. Where can they turn to for assistance if it’s illegal for someone to help them with purchasing tickets?” one said.
The spring season might be the most stressful time for migrant workers eager to go home to festive celebrations, but struggling to buy train tickets.
Currently, passengers can secure tickets by queuing at a ticketing office at railway stations, booking by phone, or making online reservations through a newly digitalised ticketing system on the official website of the Ministry of Railway’s customer service department.
Nevertheless, these channels are not guarantees for a ticket due to their long and complicated booking procedure.
The ticketing website, commonly referred to as 12306, was reportedly developed with 300 million yuan in 2012. Despite its cost, the website was criticised for its difficult navigation, slow speed and poor service quality.
Plug-in browsers for 12306 have grown in prominence as they provide easy navigation and allow users to enjoy a higher chance of getting a ticket for a train ride home.
Since the launch of plug-in browsers, traffic of 12306 has soared, selling up to 300,000 tickets in an hour. Tickets for popular train routes “were sold out in less than 5 minutes,” according to media reports.
While effective tools for getting tickets, these browsers disrupt the order of online purchase since they essentially enable users to “jump the queue”. They also increase security risks associated with the disposal of personal information.