According to Sunday's China Daily, yesterday marked the beginning of the annual Spring Festival peak travel season when hordes of college students and migrant workers traditionally travel home to visit their families. The paper says that in addition to the 2.85 billion road trips expected to take place over the next 40 days, 34 million Chinese will travel by air and nearly 6 million passengers per day are expected to take rail journeys. A Reuters story describes it as the "... biggest movement of humanity in the world."
In the past, people wishing to travel by train during the Spring Festival usually had to queue for hours at train stations in extremely long lines. A Business Insider article sums it up thusly:
"Historically, the only way to buy a train ticket in China has been to wait in line at a train station or ticket agent office. With tickets available only 10 days in advance, and demand running high, many travelers can find themselves waiting in line overnight in the cold, sometimes for multiple days, in order to secure a ticket. Complicating matters are much-hated scalpers, who snap up tickets ahead of the crowds and resell them at inflated prices."
This year, however, the Chinese Rail Ministry decided to set up a website as well as a phone reservation system that let passengers purchase tickets up to 12 days in advance. Furthermore, says the Business Insider, purchasers had to give their real names—a move meant to reduce the likelihood of ticket scalping.
According to the Chinese Daily, the Rail Ministry website received over 1 billion hits during the first week of 2012. Over 100 million people also are said to have registered on the site.
Unfortunately, news reports (including one from Reuters) bore the bad news that the Rail Ministry's website crashed just minutes after it was launched last week. And when it did come back online (only intermittently), website visitors found themselves subject to long wait times before they could purchase their tickets. In some cases, the Business Insider article reported, many would-be rail passengers were charged for tickets that were not issued or found out after a lengthy wait that the tickets for a particular day were already sold out.
The Rail Ministry is reportedly working on increasing the website's bandwidth, and will be issuing refunds to those who were mistakenly charged, according to this AFPreport.
The new Chinese Rail Ministry website wasn't the only one that experienced glitches last week. Numerous computer problems forced the shutdown of the London Olympics and Paralympics' resale ticketing system, run by Ticketmaster. The resale system was set up as a link between Olympic event ticket holders wishing to sell their unwanted tickets back at face value and sports fans seeking to purchase the t.
The resale site was also set up to reduce ticket touting. (The fine for selling London Olympic tickets above face value is £20 000.)
"People trying to buy tickets were able to click on to apparently available tickets, but after several minutes were told these were not available. However, hours later, the web site showed the same tickets still apparently available."
"We have temporarily suspended the ticketing website while Ticketmaster investigates ticket resale issues that some customers have been experiencing. This website will reopen once Ticketmaster has resolved these issues. You will also be able to purchase Olympic Football and Paralympic tickets from this time."
The London Olympic organizing committee also admitted last week that the sale of 10 000 more tickets to the synchronized swimming events than actually existed was due to "human error." To smooth things over, says the Sydney Morning Herald, Olympic organizers are said to have contacted roughly 3000 of those holding the oversold synchronized swimming tickets with an offer to exchange the tickets for those giving admittance to other events for which the purchasers had also indicated a preference.
The London Olympics ticket system and ticket allocation scheme have been heavily criticized since they were introduced last Spring.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.