China's transport development slowly picking up the pace
Every year during the Chinese Spring Festival the migrant workers flooding Beijing and other big cities in China go back to their home places to visit their relatives, usually the elderly and the children they’d left behind in order to find better paid jobs in big cities. Every year since 2002 the China railway system has put a 20% surplus on the outbound tickets from Beijing, leeching off the poor migrant workers. The public debate on the issue hasn’t resulted in any positive change. Despite the consumers insisting on keeping the tariffs levelled throughout the year, the China Rail has used one excuse repeatedly to fend off the criticism on its actions: the state-owned company claims to be using the price change to balance the unmanageable flow of travellers during that period. However, throughout the years of “management though price” the flow of travellers has see an increase in spite of the plans of the China Rail.
Today, however, the China Rail has suddenly announced its plan for “no mark-up for the Spring travel”, which has come as a big, albeit delayed surprise for the potential travellers. The 20% mark up may not come up to a great sum of money, but for some migrant workers whose labour is valued at 25 yuan* per day (a little under £2) the difference in price may as well be the difference between them seeing their children back at home for the Chinese New Year or not.
The change marks a significant victory not only for the travellers, but for the society as a joint force against a state monopoly. It is the second transport-related improvement Beijing has seen since the beginning of 2007. Beijing has one of the most comprehensive, accessible and far-reaching public transport systems in the country. Starting 1 January the prices for travelling on buses and trolley buses have been cut down by 60%** and 20% (depending on the transport company running the routes). Students enjoy 80% discount, elderly and some disabled passengers travel for free.
While accommodating 25% of the world’s population, China’s railway system only accounts for 6% of the world’s railway coverage. Scholars on transport development argue that the reason China’s railway system is so underdeveloped is because it is state-owned and monopolised. Some argue that the China Rail only did the right thing and the consumers only regained their right to fair pricing and protection against monopolies. The China Rail is expected to handle over 1,590,000 passengers this Spring festival travelling from Beijing (up from 1,470,000 in 2006) and a fixed price will hardly be the single contributor to the growth.
*One British Pound equals about 15 Chinese Yuan
**The minimum fixed price for bus travels is set at 1 yuan; the average bus trips, now discounted, cost 0.4 yuan, approximately 2 British pence