Rapid advances of Spring Festival travel

It was not until 1979 that chunyun became a buzzword when a record 100 million people made trips home for the first time.

Although the term chunyun (Spring Festival travel period), first appeared in Chinese news media in 1954, it did not become a phenomenon until 1979 when a record 100 million trips was made for the first time.

At the time, Chinese people only had Sunday off each week, and there were no “golden weeks” such as the National Day 7-day holidays. Spring Festival was the only long vacation that could be used for travel.

But low salaries under the planned economy constrained travel opportunities. Few could afford to travel, and there was no significant rise in the number of trips made during Spring Festival.

After the economic reform and opening-up policies were adopted in 1978, not only did people earn more, but also productive resources, including human resources, began to flow across the country due to market forces.

Surplus rural workers enter cities to make a living while urbanites in smaller cities go to large cities for higher pay and better careers.

This year, the total passenger traffic during the 40-day-long Spring Festival travel, which ends on March 12, is expected to reach 2.98 billion, nearly 30 times higher than 1979.

Another change relates to speed. In 40 years, the operational speed of Chinese railways has surged from less than 40 kilometers per hour to up to 350kph.

From Beijing to Shanghai 1,300km away, it used to take passengers 24 hours. Now, the travel time has been cut to 4 hours.

Huang Xin, deputy director of the Passenger Transport Department of China Railways Corporation, previously worked with the Guangzhou Railway Group. He said that 20 years ago, the queue for ticket booths at Guangzhou Railway Station usually extended for several kilometers. 

Now people can book tickets via telephone hotlines or buy e-tickets through an official website. Given the strong travel demand, however, it is still not easy to get a ticket.

According to Zhu Jiansheng, deputy chief of the Institute of Computing Technology under the China Academy of Railway Sciences, the average daily page views of the 12306 ticket-booking website is 55.67 billion.

At peak times, the number is as much as 81.34 billion, with the highest page views at 6 billion per hour. Each day, 15 million tickets are sold by the website.

Long queues at railway stations have been eased, as more than 60 percent of tickets are bought online.

High-speed railway stations are more like airports, complete with catering facilities where passengers can wait for their trains with a cup of coffee in hand.

Back in 1978, facilities at railway stations could only meet transport needs. Snack counters were scarce.

China also didn’t have any expressways until the first was built in 1988. China now has a dense road network. Last year, the total mileage of expressways reached 136,000 kilometers, covering 97 percent of cities with a population larger than 200,000 each.

Road trips are expected to take up more than 80 percent of trips made during this year’s Spring Festival, which begins next Thursday, with railway trips at about 400 million, taking up only 14 percent.

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