Real-name ticket system rides into storm

The country's railway authority has encountered a public outcry, instead of the thunderous applause it expected, at the very beginning of its move to practice a real-name purchasing system for high-speed train tickets.
In a self-acclaimed effort to improve railway security and eliminate ticket scalping, the Ministry of Railways began selling real-name tickets nationwide from June 1 for its trains classified with the letters C, D and G. These are trains that operate at speeds of more than 200 kilometers per hour.

The real-name system demands passengers use one of 23 types of valid identification, including residence permits and passports, when buying tickets for one of these trains.

The real-name ticket-buying system, if smoothly operated, would symbolize a positive step by the "Big Railway Brother" - a popular name for the Ministry of Railways because of its dominant status in the country's transport system - toward improving its long-controversial rail services.

The public has long been calling for a real-name ticket-buying system, especially for the annual Spring Festival period when ordinary Chinese people face an unprecedented challenge getting a train ticket so they can return home for their traditional family reunion.

In the second decade of the 21st century, the country is already technologically equipped to operate a real-name ticket system for the railways. From a technical perspective, it should be no more difficult than purchasing a real-name ticket for a flight.

However, the railway authority has from the beginning hurled itself into a maelstrom of public controversy.

The public's first complaint stems from the compulsory regulation that passengers will have their names and full ID numbers printed on the tickets, a move widely believed to run counter to the protection of people's private information.

The printing of their full ID numbers on the ticket means that all passengers will have to look after their tickets with particular care, even after they are used, to prevent their personal information getting into the wrong hands, especially in today's society when people's personal information is commonly peddled by agencies for commercial gain.

In fact, many Chinese people have suffered more or less harassment from some housing intermediaries, insurance companies or travel agencies due to their personal information being leaked.

In view of the smooth implementation of a real-name ticket system for domestic and international flights that does not require passengers' ID numbers be stamped on tickets, people are particularly puzzled about why such a bizarre and unnecessary regulation should be introduced by the railway authority. The ministry should explain and justify this controversial requirement.

Public discontent has also focused on the fact that passengers will have to re-buy a ticket should they lose the original. Unlike non-name train tickets that are unable to identify the ticket owners if they are lost, the computerized real-name system should make it easy to re-issue a free replacement ticket for any passenger who loses their ticket.

Compared with high-speed trains, other trains suffer more from ticket scalping, which leads to another question: Why doesn't the ministry single out one or two non-high-speed rail routes for real-name ticket buying and gain much-needed experience on how to effectively prevent ticket scalping among trains nationwide?

To win people's positive support, the country's railway authorities still have much more to do.