Internet savvy Chinese resort to carpooling to beat Spring Festival travel rush

From Xinhua January 26, 2011. Source: Autonews

Xinhua (Beijing) – Liao Line, mother of a five-month-old baby, can still recall the scene of her husband queuing for their tickets to return home for the Chinese Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival. “Even though it was 10:30 p.m., there was a long line before him at the clamorous Guangzhou Railway Station. Conductors began to sell the tickets at midnight. But when it came to his turn, all the seat tickets were taken and we had to give up,” she said.

However, thanks to the Internet, the family of three were able to connect Deng through online postings. Deng works in Guangzhou and lives in Nanning city in China’s southwest Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, also the hometown of the family.

“Deng drove us home and charged us no fees,” Liao said with gratitude.

Like Liao’s family, more Internet-savvy Chinese are turning to help from online forums and websites to find solutions to circumvent the dilemma brought by a severe shortfall of train tickets prior to China’s most important festival, which falls on Feb. 3 this year.

Some 700 million Chinese, or nearly half the country’s population, are expected to travel within the 40-day-long peak travel season during the festival, or Chunyun, which has been dubbed the “largest migration on the planet”.

China’s railway system is still “far from” meeting the demand, despite more than 13,000 high-speed and ordinary trains being added to the national network in 2010, Wang Zhiguo, vice minister of railways, said Wednesday.

Under this circumstance, a carpooling league became the latest online sensation. Dubbed by netizens as the country’s first non-profit website dedicated to carpooling, the carpooling league matches drivers and passengers if they are on the same route going home for holidays.

Through the carpooling league, drivers voluntarily post information on the number of extra seats and schedule of their trips, while passengers look for carpoolers by releasing information about the name of their workplace and hometown.

Those who shared car seats need to pay nothing but gratitude.

Since its debut on Jan 5, more than 100,000 people have registered in 18 days. In Beijing alone, there are 12,000 people registered.

“By Jan. 20, more than 200 groups have carpooled successfully,” said Zhu Yongzhong, one of the organizers of the league. “At least 50,000 people will benefit from our service this year,” he said.

Chen Yufu, a computer technician in Guangzhou, who has been absent from family reunions during Spring Festival for the last six years, said he felt lucky as he could receive a free ride back to his hometown of Zhengzhou.

Gu Wubin, who promised to take Chen and another doctor on the journey home, said both the Internet and carpooling helped him to get to know friends who were from his hometown.

“We have decided to take the trip as a driving tour, stopping from time to time and enjoying the scenery along the road. One of them has a driving license and we can take turns driving on the long journey,” he said.

Still, more people are waiting for a car with a driver going to their hometown so they might go home together.

For other car owners, carpooling means less cost and a green way of life, said Wang Jing, a media worker in Beijing.

For him, he wanted to partner up with his fellow townsmen to share the cost of 1,600 yuan on gas and road tolls on his way back to southwest China’s Chengdu city.

Despite all the conveniences of sharing a car, experts have warned about the risks of carpooling.

“Given there might be unforeseeable risks or accidents on the way home,it’s necessary for the car owner and passengers to reach an agreement and make clear the share of responsibilities in case of an emergency,” said Zha Zhuo, a police officer at the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau Commanding Center.

“The two parties have to make sure they won’t have any conflict on the sharing of fees such as insurance, road tolls and car maintenance. For the passengers, it’s better for them to check whether the car owners are qualified drivers,” he said.

Zhang Jinpeng, a Beijing-based lawyer, advised both parties to sign a contract before the journey start, agreeing on the time of departure and arrival and that car owners could not over-charge on the way.

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