Big changes for those who ride China’s trains: starting last week, train stations in eastern China no longer accept paper tickets. Instead, every gate for every train in 48 cities (mostly in Zhejiang) now have a passport scanner at what’s called the “Manual Channel (人工通道)”, which links your ticket info with your passport number. This is not new for Chinese citizens, who have been able to scan their ID cards for at least a couple of years. But for those of us without a Chinese ID, it’s a major change. How does it work?
Pretty well! On a test trip to Hangzhou this week, I entered the station by showing only a passport (you could do this before) and then got in line for the usual paper ticket channel, to see how it would work. When it was my turn at the gate, I found the slot once used to insert paper tickets now sealed, and an attendant off to the right working the scanner, which is now compulsory for those without a shenfenzheng. Even if you have a paper ticket (and I’d recommend you still keep one; more later), it’s not much use other than for remembering your car and seat assignment; nowhere accepts it.
Once in the Manual Channel, things moved fast, with scanning taking just a second or two before being waved through to the platform. On exiting the station in Hangzhou, there was another Manual Channel to scan passports before leaving. Pretty smooth!
Still, it’s a new system and there are some instances in which you might still want to carry a paper ticket as a backup. Like, for example, if you mis-entered your passport number when buying tickets online (you can do it through Ctrip with an English interface or the official 12306.cn site in Chinese); if you have recently changed passports; in case the system doesn’t match your name to your passport for whatever reason; and if you don’t have your car/seat number written down somewhere. Just to be safe. You know, until the kinks, wherever they may be, get ironed out.
Overall it’s a big technological step up for the Railway Bureau and seems like a pilot program that will be rolled out across the country if it proves successful in this region. Is facial recognition next?
Below, the cities that now use the scanning system for passports.
Ningbo, Fenghua, Ninghai. Sanmen County, Linhai, Taizhou, Wenling, Yandanshan, Shenfang, Yueqing, Yongjia, Wenzhou South, Rui’an, Pingyang, Cangnan, Shanghai Hongqiao, Songjiang South, Jinshan North, Jiashan South, Jiaxing South, Tongxiang, Haining West, Yuhang, Shaoxing North, Shaoxing East, Yuyao North, Zhuangqiao, Zhuji, Yiwu, Jinhua, Longyou, Yinzhou, Jiangshan, Jinhua South, Wuyi North, Yongkang South, Jinyun West, Lishui, Qingtian, Yancheng North, Sheyang, Funing East, Binhai Port, Xiangshui County, Lianyungang, Ganyu, Huaibei, and Huaibei North.