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Nothing can be weirder than a train with just 0.8 percent of its seats occupied on Saturday last week, the first day of the busy home-bound rush before the traditional Spring Festival on Feb 14.
The vacancy is not even likely in slack season. What is even stranger is the claim by the Shenzhen railway station that tickets had been sold out for this train from South China's special economic zone to Central China's Wuhan.
Then why did passengers who had bought tickets fail to get onboard? Authorities from the railway station explained that it might be because most of the passengers could not get any days off from work and chose to skip the train.
The explanation is ludicrous. How could 92 percent of the passengers all fail to get vacation leave? Even if they did, they could have returned the tickets and receive refunds. Given that most passengers are migrant workers, they would not hesitate to return the tickets for a refund. Even rich people would not waste their money this way.
It is beyond common sense for this many passengers to buy tickets without making sure whether they would be able to go or not.
Then where did the tickets end up?
We cannot rule out the possibility of a failed collaboration between the railway station and scalpers. The station may have kept the tickets for scalpers who would resell the tickets for higher prices and then share the booty with ticket sellers in the railway station.
However, the tickets failed to be sold because of an error somewhere.
What is particularly noteworthy is the fact that identification cards must be used to buy train tickets in South China's Guangdong province starting from January this year. This is to prevent scalpers from buying too many tickets and making a profit in reselling them. This method could be effective if scalpers buy tickets only from the ticket outlets like ordinary passengers.
However, those scalpers who can make millions of yuan from this dirty trade reportedly have connections with those who are selling tickets. They buy the tickets in large quantities from inside the ticket-sale offices and then resell them. The new measure will do nothing to stop them from getting tickets.
That explains why passengers are often told to have no tickets at all for some very busy trains either at ticket-sale points or by making phone calls to order a ticket exactly the time when all computers at all vendors should start to sell them.
So the real blow to the illegal trade is to make sure that no one in the railway station has the audacity to provide scalpers with tickets for illegal profits. That is up to the tight control of ticket booths and better management of the railway stations as well as the transparency of information on ticket sales.
As for this case, a thorough investigation is needed to find out what happened to the tickets. And those held responsible must be severely punished according to the law.
(China Daily 02/04/2010 page8