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[January 19, 2014]
Ticket grief intensifies [Global Times]
(Global Times Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Migrant workers buy train tickets using 12306.cn on January 7 at their company office in Jiashan county, Zhejiang Province. Photo: IC The world's largest annual migration event began on Thursday. Over the coming 40 days, an estimated 3.6 billion passenger journeys are expected to take place across the vast land of China, when countless people travel back home to reunite with their families for Spring Festival, which falls on January 31. The 2014 crush saw an increase of 200 million passengers compared to 2013. But for passengers, this means the already jam-packed planes, trains and buses are being further squeezed.On January 10, Wang Zhicai, stepped into the ticket-purchasing battlefield before 8 am with his desktop computer, ready to make online ticket purchases. He was but one among millions, as it was the first day tickets for trips on the official dates of the Spring Festival holiday would be made available.Wang had already began to refresh the webpage of 12306.cn, the official website for booking train tickets, a few minutes before 8 am so as to be one of the first to see the tickets being released. It wasn't enough. He was unable to get tickets, and he failed again when he tried at noon, then again later in the afternoon. The young man was stunned. Finally he was able to get a ticket - standing room only - for the 7-hour-long trip home to Henan Province.Application frenzyWhen Wang was reached by the Global Times, he was back at it. This time, he was armed with a "ticket-snatching application" in an attempt to seize a chance to go home on the same train as his girlfriend. Five tech giants have launched apps for computers and smartphones since December 2013, including Baidu Inc, Qihoo 360 Technology and Sougou, a subsidiary of Sohu.com Inc. Advertisements for these applications on the companies' official websites and Sina Weibo claimed that they could help speed up purchases and help win the battle to buy online tickets.Tacit government approvalDespite attempts by the authorities last year to crack down on these apps, they have become even more popular. This year the authorities appear to have given them tacit approval, and have ceased trying to stop them.Yao Jianfang, a research fellow with the China e-Business Research Center (CEBRC), told the Global Times that these apps, despite being legal, still infringe upon the rights of the customers who follow the rules."Users should also be aware of the need to protect their personal information when putting their information into those apps. Some people might attach Trojan-horse programs to those apps, which could cause risks to users," Yao said. But with train tickets so hard to buy, these apps look here to stay.According to 12306.cn, train tickets are available for a set 16 hours each day, starting at 8 am. Tickets for bullet trains and high-speed trains are released at 11 am and 2 pm, which results in members of the public waiting by their electronic devices in order to rush onto the website.More than 148 million train tickets have been sold within 20 days since December 23, 2013 and more than 5 million tickets were sold online on January 9, marking a sharp increase, reported the Beijing Morning Post. Statistics from the Hangzhou-based CEBRC revealed that over 12 million of them were sold via the ticket-buying app from Qihoo 360.Wang Yinhua, an engineer from Qihoo 360, told the Global Times that the app, launched in December 2013 could automatically fill in the identifying codes in the purchase and help users snatch tickets even when they are not online."They just need to fill in basic information and leave the rest to the computer, which repeats the purchase operation until a ticket is bought. It then notifies the user via a text message," the engineer explained. The company also launched an online platform to offer services like ticket reservations and car pooling. According to a report the company released on Wednesday, the Qihoo app had helped snatch 25.6 million tickets as of January 12. Meanwhile, more than 7.5 million tickets were purchased via a similar app from Baidu, which is able to remember the operation interface as well as the information, even if the website crashes in the middle of a purchase. Flawed systemWidespread criticism has been cast upon 12306.cn since its launch in 2011, and the complaints continue.The frustration caused by the ticket rush inspired Ni Chao, a programmer in Anhui Province, to optimize the purchasing process with his own plug-in program named "12306 Ticket-Booking Assistant" in 2012. "The program can find better interfaces for faster connections, but it doesn't tamper with identification codes. Code-cracking programs would violate the security systems of 12306.cn and would also probably be abused by ticket scalpers," Ni said.However, some ticket scalpers have gone further to develop software that allows them to refresh the page in milliseconds instead of the five-second restriction which limits purchases on 12306.cn. Worse still, scalpers use thousands of fake ID numbers to snatch tickets under the flawed real-name system, China Central Television reported. In response to this, Hu Yadong, a vice general manager of the China Railway Corporation, said at a Tuesday press conference that passengers' information would be soon connected with the public security network for ID checks. However, Hu noted that there is "no timetable" for solving the problem. Cheng Shidong, a scholar at the Institute of Comprehensive Transportation with the National Development and Reform Commission, said that the core problem lies in the gap between demand and supply and the problem isn't going to be resolved any time soon.A survey done by Guangdong railway authorities showed that there were 26.27 million migrant workers in Guangdong in 2013 and 75 percent preferred to go home by train. But only 10.46 million train tickets were released, meaning half of the workers could not get a train ticket for home."The current capacity of the railway system may not fully meet peak demand, but if we fulfill the demand with massive railway construction, it would become a waste of resources after the holidays are over. Besides, the tradition of celebrating Spring Festival at home is also hard to change," Cheng said.
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