For all the hype around China’s blossoming high-speed rail network setting new speed records, inaugurating new services and generally becoming the greatest thing since the Shanghai Expo, there is a groundswell of grumbling from the people who have to pay to travel on these modern transports of delight. Bullet-train fares are double those of regular trains, which on some routes have been completely replaced by the faster services. Passengers are saying the tickets are too expensive and some berths are unnecessarily luxurious.
Earlier this week, the Oriental Morning Post reported that four out of five tickets available on a new bullet train running between Shanghai to Chengdu that will start on Jan. 11 are soft sleepers costing more than 1,000 yuan with the top price for 16 luxury sleepers being 2,330 yuan. That is half as expensive again as the airfare between the two cities and more than a month’s wages for a migrant worker. The paper quotes Sun Zhang, a professor from the Transportation Engineering School of Tongji University in Shanghai, criticizing such “exorbitant prices”. He says the fares will be prohibitive for many migrant workers returning from Shanghai to Sichuan for the annual Spring Festival and who usually find it difficult to get a train ticket as it is.
The Xinhua Daily Telegraph, in an appeal to make high-speed rail travel more affordable, relays a similar tale of woe for students, equally cash-strapped and who are having to resort to bus travel as they can’t afford high-speed train fares. A student fare between Wuhan and Guangzhou used to cost 180 yuan on the regular trains that no longer run. The bullet-train fare ranges from 500 yuan to 800 yuan.
The paper also reports that earlier in the year high-speed trains were cancelled between Hankou and Qingdao and between Beijing and Fuzhou for lack of passengers. Meanwhile, luxury berths have been selling slowly. The Shanghai Evening Post reports that the number of first-class berths on the Beijing-Shanghai run, which cost 1,470 yuan, will be cut to make room for cheaper seats. Pocket-book democracy.