Real-name registration in China expanded in 2012 to include popular online services like Sina Weibo. Now, in the run-up to 2012’s Spring Festival, Chinese authorities have announced two more services are getting the real-name treatment: long-distance buses and trains.
China’s high speed rail trains already require a legal government ID to purchase a ticket, but now those regulations have been expanded to include slower trains in the run-up to the Spring Festival rush on tickets. The hope is that this system will reduce ticket scalping and counterfeiting, which tends to be rampant at this time of year. (China’s Spring Festival celebrations see the largest annual human migration on earth as millions travel home at the same time, mostly on trains and buses). At the same time, the government has also created a website to sell train tickets online to cut down on the giant crowds that can form at train stations as people queue — or shove — for hours and hours in hopes of getting a train ticket home.
The online ticketing system has been a bit of a bust so far though. Reporters trying it out have been running into problems since it was launched in late December, and despite claims that the problems were fixed, a Dongfang Daily report today suggests it took one of their reporters two hours — and ten failed attempts — to navigate the system and purchase a ticket.
At least in Beijing, real-name ticketing and online ticket sales have also been expanded to include long distance bus travel, and net users can now buy tickets online using their state IDs for trips from any of nine different long distance bus stations in the capital. This is not yet a national policy, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see it expand in the near future, especially if it works well in combatting scalping in Beijing.
The real-name system is billed as the best way to cut down on ticket scalpers and counterfeit tickets, but some privacy advocates have expressed concerns that the system could also be used as a way to track an individual’s movements. That said, it should be noted that on China’s high speed trains, an ID is generally required when purchasing a ticket but not often checked when boarding the train. I’ve been on trains where IDs were checked on board, but it’s not common.