China Focus: Journeys become more efficient, individualized during Spring Festival travel rush

By Huang Yaoteng (Xinhua) 13:31, February 04, 2024

NANNING, Feb. 3 (Xinhua) -- Having spent more than 800 yuan (about 111 U.S. dollars) to book an airline ticket, Zhang Qiang, a 37-year-old migrant worker who works in the city of Nanning, capital of south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, embarked on his homeward journey on Wednesday.

Zhang's hometown, the city of Xianyang in northwest China's Shaanxi province, is more than 1,600 km from Nanning, but his journey only takes about two hours.

"I have since 2018 chosen to fly back to my hometown during the Spring Festival travel rush, because the air tickets are not expensive for me these days," Zhang said, adding that he once took a "green train," the old-fashioned slow train, from Guangzhou, capital of south China's Guangdong Province to Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi Province -- a trip which used to require nearly 37 hours to complete.

China kicked off the Spring Festival travel rush on Jan. 26 this year, 15 days ahead of the Spring Festival, also known as the Lunar New Year. An estimated 9 billion passenger trips are likely to be made during the 2024 travel rush period, according to the country's transport ministry.

In 1954, China's Spring Festival travel rush, also known as "chunyun," became known to a wider public audience through media coverage. Hundreds of millions of people in China return home and reunite with their families for the Spring Festival each year.

Over the past 70 years, travel modes used by Chinese people to return home during the world's largest annual population migration have undergone tremendous changes.

Traveling via airplane was once considered the most luxurious way to return home during the Spring Festival. However, with an increase in flights and a decrease in ticket prices, air tickets are no longer as "unaffordable" for migrant workers as they once were.

During the 40-day travel rush this year, civil aviation is expected to handle over 80 million passenger trips, an increase of 9.8 percent from 2019, or 44.9 percent from last year, and is expected to amount to a record high, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China.

Before the high-speed rail network was fully developed, "green trains" and passenger coaches were the main modes of transportation during the Spring Festival travel rush in China. However, high-speed railway has now become the most favored railway choice.

Although he needs to transfer in the city of Shenzhen in south China's Guangdong Province and despite the journey taking about seven hours, Guo Jianqiang, a migrant worker who also works in Nanning, chose to take the high-speed train this year to return to his hometown of Quanzhou, east China's Fujian Province.

"It is a little troublesome to transfer trains, but the high-speed train is much better than the coach," Guo said. He used to spend 12 hours to reach Quanzhou by coach from Shenzhen -- a journey which now requires just over 3 hours by high-speed train.

China Railway estimated that a total of 480 million railway trips are expected to be made during this year's Spring Festival travel rush, surging 37.9 percent compared with the 2023 level.

"In fact, now people in my hometown prefer to drive home by themselves," Guo said. Self-driving will be the most popular way to travel during the 2024 Spring Festival travel rush.

Of the estimated 9 billion passenger trips during the 2024 travel rush period, 7.2 billion trips or about 80 percent will be made by self-driving, while 1.8 billion trips will be made via railways, highways, waterways, and civil aviation, the country's transport ministry said.

The surge of self-driving trips by car is accelerating the fading away of the "motorcycle fleets," once a symbolic scene during the Spring Festival travel rush in southern China, when many opted for motorcycles as their preferred mode of transport.

Back in the early 1990s, a trend was established that saw migrant workers traveling on motorbikes in large groups from the Pearl River Delta region, where they worked throughout the year, to their hometowns, mainly rural places in Guangxi, Hunan, Guizhou, Yunnan and Sichuan, for the Spring Festival.

"At its peak, we saw over 500,000 motorbike trips between Guangdong and Guangxi, while the number this year is so small that we no longer keep statistics," said Zou Dan, a traffic police officer in the city of Wuzhou in Guangxi, who has been providing travel services for motorcycle fleets for more than a decade.

More people have bought private cars, and the "motorcycle fleets" are vanishing from Spring Festival travel rush, Zou added.

Xie Xiaowen, an expert with the China Communications and Transportation Association, also noted that the structure of the mode of travel during the Spring Festival travel rush has changed, citing factors such as an increase in private car ownership and improvements in transportation infrastructure.

"In addition, the individuation and diversification of travel demands also contribute to the growing emergence of self-driving, as people can freely arrange their itineraries based on their own needs and schedules," Xie said.

These changes reflect the rapid development of the country's economy. As people pursue high-quality and personalized trips, self-driving will continue to surge during holidays in the future, he added.

(Liu Yurui contributed to the story)

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Liang Jun)


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