Fewer coach travelers in China as people opt for cars, bullet trains
Fewer Chinese are taking long-distance buses during the Spring Festival travel rush, known as Chunyun, as private cars and high-speed trains have become preferred choices for many heading home.
In central China's Hubei Province, private cars have been a major contributor to the surge in highway traffic during the annual travel rush from February 1 to March 12, according to the provincial transport authority.
The total traffic volume on Hubei's highway networks is expected to reach 48.8 million vehicles in the 40-day period, up 20 percent from the same period last year, it said. The daily peak is predicted to reach 2 million vehicles in the province that is about half the size of Germany.
Yang Bo, a 35-year-old engineer who works in the provincial capital of Wuhan, said that he prefers driving 400 kilometers back home in the remote city of Danjiangkou because a car makes it easier for him to carry lots of Chinese New Year gifts for his family.
The change is not good news for coach companies.
"We will have about 340,000 coach passengers in the February 13-20 period, down 24 percent from a year earlier," said an official with the Hubei Highway Passenger Transportation Group Co Ltd, the province's largest intercity bus service provider. It translates to a 26 percent decrease in the company's revenue for the period.
Statistics from the Hubei provincial transport authority show that during the first 10 days of the travel season, about 18.18 million coach trips were made in the province, down 9.78 percent year on year.
Coach services are also experiencing a slump in east China's Shanghai, where hundreds of thousands of migrant workers leave for the Spring Festival by train. About 99,500 coach tickets were sold during the first 10 days of the travel season by Shanghai Nanzhan Long-Distance Passenger Transportation Co Ltd, down 24.2 percent from the same period of last year.
"Our passenger volume will decrease 10 percent during this year's Chunyun," said Wu Jurong, an official with the company.
"In the past, three busloads of young people would arrive from Shanghai on the Xiaonian Festival, the 24th day of the last lunar month, which preludes Spring Festival, but only one such bus came that day this year," said Deng Wenwu, chief of the central bus station in the hilly county of Chongyang, Hubei.
The station reported a loss of 2 million yuan (US$317,460) last year due to shrinking passenger traffic, he said, adding that the coach business had been on the decline as China grants free road travel by suspending motorway tolls for major holidays and extends its high-speed rail networks to remote regions.
This is especially true this year in China's vast west, where several new high-speed rail routes went into operation a few months ago, and the number of train travelers is expected to soar during the Spring Festival.
Xi'an Railway Bureau predicted train stations in northwest China's Shaanxi Province will see 13 million passengers depart during the 40-day travel season, up 15.5 percent from a year earlier, and that 5.56 million of them will be high-speed train travelers, up 58.9 percent.