Passengers wait to buy tickets from an automatic ticket machine in Suzhou railway station, Jiangsu province, on Sunday. From Sept 1, passengers can return unwanted train tickets at any railway station on the mainland. Currently, tickets must be returned at the station where they were bought or where the passengers would board the train. Wang Jiankang for China Daily
China's national railway operator announced a new ticket return policy on Monday that immediately aroused public debate about the State-owned company's services.
From Sept 1, passengers will now be able to return their train tickets at any railway station on the Chinese mainland. The current policy requires return transactions only at the station where the ticket was purchased or the station where the intended train is located, according to a statement on China Railway Corp's website.
Fees charged for returning tickets will also be changed. Passengers will be charged a rate equal to 5 percent of their ticket's price if they return the ticket 48 hours or earlier before the train's departure. A 10-percent rate will be charged if a return occurs within 48 hours leading to the departure but 24 hours before it. A return within 24 hours before departure is subject to a 20-percent rate.
Currently, stations charge a 5-percent rate on ticket returns.
The China Railway Corp said its new adjustments were created to make up for the short supply in tickets during peak holiday periods, such as Spring Festival and the National Day holidays. During these holidays, many passengers purchase a large amount of tickets with different departures and different classes of seats to find the most suitable time for their trips.
The company said people then return the tickets they don't want shortly before boarding, making it almost impossible for railway stations to resell them, the company said.
The average number of tickets returned by Chinese passengers on a daily basis from Jan 1 to July 15 was 77.6 percent higher than the same period in 2012, it said.
Statistics from the company shows 73.5 percent of returns occurred within 24 hours before the train's departure and only 14.8 percent were done 48 hours or earlier.
"The new measure will provide convenience to more people when they buy train tickets," said Zhao Jian, a professor at Beijing Jiaotong University who specializes in China's railway system. "The schedule for each service is fixed so if passengers return tickets too late, it will become virtually invalid because other people are not able to buy it. It is unfair for them."
Zhao said the different return rates will encourage passengers to figure out their trip as early as possible.
Allowing passengers to return tickets at any station will also help to alleviate stress on train services during peak periods, he added.
But the changes, which China Railway Corp insists are intended to benefit passengers, sparked mixed reactions from the public.
"The railway authority should have adopted this measure much earlier," said Lin Muqi, an office worker in Beijing who frequently travels by train. "Otherwise some people would hold a bunch of tickets and then select the most comfortable one to take, leaving others like me nothing but frustration and anxiety."
Others said China Railway Corp, and its predecessor, the railways ministry, never solicited the public's opinions in making policies or adjusting them.
"If we have to pay a diversified rate to return the ticket, why can't the railway company pay us a diversified amount of compensation if the train is delayed?" asked a Sina Weibo user under the screen name Summer9996.
Another micro-blogger niuhp said, "I understand the move aims to curb buying too many tickets and scalping, but it also hurts those who have to change their trip suddenly due to reasons out of their control."
During this year's session of the National People's Congress in March, the Ministry of Railways, established in 1949, was dismantled. Its administrative functions were absorbed by the Ministry of Transport, while the China Railway Corp took over its commercial functions.