China ready for upcoming Spring Festival travel rush

Migrant workers on their way home on motorcycles in 2016. Photo: Xinhua

Chinese authorities have forecast a peak travel rush in the second week of China's 40-day "Chunyun," referring to travel around the Spring Festival, starting Friday, as many Chinese people are rushing back home for the Spring Festival.

More trips will be made in the second week from Jan. 20 to 26, with the daily average likely to exceed 80 million trips, the Ministry of Transport said Friday.

Chinese people made 520 million trips in the week ending Thursday, the first week of the 40-day "Chunyun," up 3.1 percent year on year, according to ministry.

While college students and 270 million migrant workers are the main travelers, generally move from the country's booming eastern and southern coasts, as well as Beijing, to inland cities, towns, and villages before the new year. A reverse trend occurs about a week after the holiday.

Trips made on trains surged 21.9 percent to 61.7 million in the first week, faster than the growth of trips made by other means of transportation.

About 2.98 billion trips are expected to be made during the Spring Festival travel rush between Jan. 13 and Feb. 21, slightly up from a year ago, the National Development and Reform Commission said last week.

"This year, we are facing greater pressure as Chunyun starts earlier," said Zhao Chenxin, a spokesman for the National Development and Reform Commission. "However, we will harness big data and mobile internet technologies to offer better services."

China Railway Corporation says 3,570 pairs of trains are in service and an additional 1,264 pairs will be added as temporary support.

Since the last Chunyun, 3,200 kilometers of new rail tracks have been put to use.

More than 65 percent of train trips are being served by high-speed trains that can run up to more than 300 kilometers per hour.

China developed the world's largest high-speed rail network in just a decade, halving travel time for otherwise gruesome cross-country trips. The high-speed rail line has reached 20,000 kilometers and will add 10,000 kilometers more by 2020, linking more than 80 percent of China's big cities.

With the development of fast trains, tickets can now be booked in person, on the phone, or more commonly through websites and mobile phone apps. Most of the booking is done via the railway company's official website

To fast-track check-in, some stations have started using facial recognition technology to verify passenger identities. Beijing Western Railway Station, for example, set up six automatic check-in lanes. Passengers insert their ticket and ID card into a machine and have a photo taken for verification.

Even for many who take the train, they often need to switch to roads to reach homes in faraway towns and villages. Buses and private vehicles have a key role to play.

With the development of the sharing economy, the country's largest online car-hailing company Didi Chuxing says travelers can make good use of its car-pooling service that allows those going home to take a ride in private cars traveling towards the same direction.

The company estimates around 8.4 million people will make use of the service during Chunyun. Liu Qing, president of the company, said that inter-city car-pooling could help ease the strain on public transport.

Air travel is the last resort, for the privileged, as tickets during the Chunyun travel rush are generally sold without discounts.

All four major airlines -- Air China, China Southern, China Eastern, and Hainan Airlines -- plan to add flights while China United Airlines opened two new routes.

Spring Festival, or Chinese Lunar New Year, is the most important occasion for family reunions and falls on Jan. 28 this year. Chinese people will enjoy a week-long holiday starting Jan. 27.

Chunyun, literally meaning "spring transport," was first coined as a phrase by the media in 1954 to describe heavy traffic around Spring Festival, according to China Railway Corp. archives.

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