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Spring Rush 2013: scalpers put off their farewell banquet

March 5, 2013

The secret tricks scalpers use to exploit the imprinted-name ticket system

Once again it is spring rush, and railway tickets are hard to come by. On the ticket selling website, within three minutes after tickets go on sale, they all change from “available” to “non-available.” while standing in a long line before the station window, one hears a voice in front, in response to a question,  saying, “standing room tickets are all gone as well.”

In each of Beijing’s main railway stations, on the periphery of the ticket selling areas, the scalpers ply their trade, adding 300 yuan or more to the ticket price. The imprinted name ticket system has been in force for two years now. How have the scalpers been able once again to infiltrate into the system?

In a week of investigation, this reporter found out two of the scalpers secrets. One is “request far and buy near.” In other words, a person outside the station buys a scalped ticket to a far destination for a high price, but also buys a ticket to nearby, local destination, and uses that ticket to enter the station, thus avoiding the requirements of the imprinted name ticket system [to show one’s identification and ticket to a station guard]. Two, “instant snatch of a returned ticket.” If the scalper holds a ticket a passenger wants, the scalper returns the ticket, in such a way that the purchaser can buy the ticket and as soon as it reappears in the database [in that way, the ticket is bought with the new purchaser’s identity].

A person who has been a legitimate ticket agent for many years said the ticket selling database, between 4 days to 1 day before  departure, will post any spare or returned tickets for sale again on the site. Most people are not aware of this, giving the scalper an opportunity to exploit the system.

First Secret: “request far and buy near.”

According to the procedures of the name-imprinted ticket system, the passenger’s ticket or proof of identity may be checked 5 times: at the entrance into the station, at the entrance to the waiting area, at the ticket checkpoint in the waiting area, at the door of the train car, and while on the train. “As long as you can enter the station, the others are no problem,” according to a scalper named Liu. At the station entrance is the only place they check a person’s ticket and proof of identity to see if they match. At the others they don’t check one’s identification.

“If you don’t believe “request far and buy near” works, why don’t you try it? Mr Liu was over 50, he had derived his income from scalping tickets for many years. Following Liu’s instructions, this reporter bought two tickets, on 1-23 from Beijing to Zhuozhou [city in Hebei bordering Beijing in the north] on the K401 for 12.5 yuan, and on the same day a ticket bound for Handan (in Hebei, 294 miles by train) on the high speed rail G6735 for 209 yuan.

On the 23rd at 6 PM, this reporter, carrying his identification and K401 ticket, entered Beijing West station. The station staff member checked my identity and the K401 ticket, stamped “passed through” on the ticket face, and let me go through.

The K401 train travelers went to the Number 4 waiting room, the G6735 travelers to the Number 8 waiting room. At the number 8 waiting room entrance the way was blocked by guards, but the 4 or 5 station staff members only motioned passengers to show their tickets, and waved them through. I entered easily without having to show my identity.

At the ticket checkpoint there is an electronic gate with a place to swipe one’s identity card in order to pass through. If I swiped my card, but was holding in my hand a ticket from a scalper which was not in my name, my way would be blocked.

But when I got to the gate, I discovered I did not have to swipe my identity card. To pass through, all I needed to do was insert my ticket in the ticket slot.

At 7:30, at the entrance to the G6735 train car, there was no train attendant checking tickets. Inside the train, at 8:07, a train attendant came through checking tickets, but he only checked the ticket, not my identification. There was no checking of passengers when the train arrived at its destination, Handan East station, at 9:53.

Since one’s identity is not checked after going through the station entrance, one can indeed buy a long distance ticket from a scalper [which has someone else’s name on it] and use a short distance ticket to pass into the station. [During spring rush, long distance tickets are all sold out, so the only recourse is to buy one from a scalper. But short distance tickets can still be easily purchased legitimately, and the passenger uses this short distance ticket to enter the station, as instructed by the scalper.]

The scalper Liu said if they checked passengers identity at each of the five places (listed above), this trick of “request far and buy near” would not work. “Possibly they don’t have enough staff to do this during spring rush, when there are so many passengers.” When asked by this reporter, a  person of responsibility in the station affirmed that it was their policy to only check identification at the station entrance.

2 : “instant snatch of a returned ticket.”

On the 24th, this reporter was at Beijing station, speaking to a scalper with a northwest accent. This reporter said he wanted a ticket to Panjin in Liaoning, The scalper said, “We have our own special office, with people on the web buying tickets and releasing tickets. We have bought in advance a large supply of the most in demand tickets. Lend me your identification, and I’ll get in line and get you the ticket you want.”

Zhou Rong has been in the ticket selling business a long time, and he is familiar with how the scalpers operate. He gave me a demonstration of how “instant snatch of a returned ticket” works. On the 24th at 9:45, on the ticket website there appeared one Beijing West– Wuhan ticket on the G501 train. “Right away. I’ll buy it.” Zhou Rong immediately used a different computer to log in and buy the ticket. Skilled from long practice, by 9:47 the screen showed that the ticket had indeed been purchased. Now there were no tickets left for sale on the 24th for this route.

Then,, Zhou Rong clicked on “Return ticket.” At 9:48, the screen indicated that the operation was completed. When he refreshed the screen, a G501 ticket had appeared. Zhou Rong clicked on the ticket on the screen, and showed this reporter,  looking at the details, “see, it is the same ticket I just returned.”

As Zhou Rong demonstrated, when one returns a ticket online, that ticket immediately shows up for sale on the selling webpage. Now it can be sold to another person. If you catch sight of it the moment it appears, the chances of a blunder are very small. According to Zhou Rong, scalpers usually handle this operation with two people. One person takes the customer’s identity card and lines up at the selling window, and another is on the net, ready to return the already purchased ticket [which the scalpers have hoarded in advance]. When the latter returns the ticket, he informs his partner, now at the front of the line, who grabs it the moment it becomes available.

According to Zhou Rong, many scalpers boast of their connections to railway staff members inside the station [as the way they obtain tickets to sell], but what they actually do is manipulate the vulnerable areas of the ticket system. This year was different from other years in that a number of tickets reappeared for sale 4 days or less before the departure date, either from hoarders returning tickets, or the railway responding to public pressure to release tickets they had set aside.


Under the name-imprinted ticket system, why are there still scalpers?

Shandong Jinan city railway station public security bureau launched “Operation Falcon 2013” to ensure order and safety during the spring rush. Up to the present, they have uncovered 16 cases involving turning over tickets, seized 355 tickets, and arrested 26 people. While we must consider the police richly rewarded for their efforts, we also have difficulty understanding why there are still scalpers, since the name-imprinted ticket system was implemented to rid us of them? Did not the railway department boast shamelessly, “the scalpers have eaten their farewell banquet [and disbanded for good]”?

In fact, the scalpers have not had a farewell banquet. They are more numerous than ever, and more hidden. They are still parasites upon the system, reselling tickets at a profit. Before they operated somewhat at random, now they take orders and use proofs of identification to buy tickets, hiking the price. Previously they were reviled, but now people sympathize with them. The media reported the case of a young husband and wife who helped temporary workers who did not know how to use computers, to buy tickets to return home on the internet, charging 10 yuan per ticket. When the couple were arrested and punished, the workers cried out that this was an injustice (Nanfang Daily, 1-14). The workers said, “if we had to go to the station ourselves to buy the tickets, it probably would have cost us more than 10 yuan, and we would have been less sure to get a ticket.” It is clear that people will continue to rely on scalpers, even handing over their proof of identity, because tickets are still hard to acquire. The imprinted-name ticket system does nothing to change this fundamental reality. As long as this is true, the scalpers will continue to earn a livelihood, as they did before.

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