Netizens are calling for lowering the cost of train tickets that do not offer a seat, but railway authorities say the price is already at rock bottom.
A publicity official at the Ministry of Railways who declined to give his name said on Thursday the ministry does not try to profit from no-seat tickets.
"But during the travel rush, there is a high demand for such tickets, because many people won't make it home otherwise," he said.
The price of no-seat tickets is at the bottom of the railway's ticket pricing structure, but so are those for hard-seat tickets, so the two cost the same, he said.
The official was responding to a recent online poll in which a majority of respondents said the ministry should not charge passengers without seats the same price as those with seats.
They supported a plan calling for the railway to sell no-seat tickets at half price.
The ministry did not respond to the proposal on Thursday.
By Thursday afternoon, nearly 27,000 users of China's Sina Weibo micro-blogging site participated in the poll. Ninety-three percent support lowering no-seat ticket prices.
Wei Zhuang, 30, who started the poll, wrote his first micro blog post on Jan 12 saying no-seat tickets were unfairly priced.
It was written in reaction to his experience in early January returning from Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, to Guangzhou, Guangdong province, where he was working.
"I was surprised to see that migrant workers who bought no-seat tickets had to rest in washrooms and even under seats during the nearly 20-hour trip," Wei said on Thursday.
The Ministry of Railways is a public service provider and should improve the ticketing system and charge a different price for no-seat tickets, he said.
His post was reposted 165,000 times by Thursday afternoon, and received nearly 40,000 comments from netizens.
A college student named Xu, 21, from Tianjin University of Science and Technology, said that with so many people supporting the proposal, it could eventually influence train ticket pricing policies.
Xu said it is unfair to charge full price for a train ticket for a no-seat ticket and that she would not buy one.
Railway officials said the price of no-seat tickets was already very cheap, but Wen Hao, a white-collar worker in Beijing, said the ministry does not disclose its operating costs and is therefore not supervised by the public.
He said as a customer, he does not know how the pricing system for railway tickets is determined and he believes it should be open to the public.
Yu Hui, 25, who works at a newspaper in Beijing, decided not to return to his hometown this year because of the difficulty of buying a train ticket.
"Actually, you are lucky if you get a ticket with no seat. So many people want to go home for family reunions before Spring Festival Eve," Yu said.
Yu said she could accept paying full price for a ticket with no seat. "But if the ticket with no seat had at least some sort of discount, I would feel better," Yu said.
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