China’s Ministry of Railways (MOR) recently revamped its 12306.cn website for buying train tickets, but the project has widely been regarded as a colossal failure. That failure didn’t come cheap, either, as the government is said to have spent RMB 330 million ($52 million) developing the website.
The 12306 website had a disappointing launch before the 2011 Chinese New Year festival, which is known for being a difficult time to travel as millions of citizens head back to their home towns for the holiday. The government promised to improve the system and it went back to the drawing board, eventually relaunching the site in September in advance of the country’s National Day, the second-biggest travel period of the year.
The new site proved to be yet another debacle receiving numerous complaints of unsuccessful logins and failed ticket purchases. It also added a baffling feature that has customers wait in a virtual line. Train ticket lines in China can be a trying experience, as documented in the 2009 film “Last Train Home “, so bringing the wait into cyberspace has not proved to be popular.
Tea Leaf Nation reported earlier this week that the website’s poor performance has attracted calls for the MOR to disclose the bidding process and financial information surrounding the project. Several citizens, including lawyers and professors, have submitted Freedom of Administrative Information forms and shared their requests on Chinese social media.
The ministry is now taking steps to explain itself in hopes of toning down some of the current public opposition, as noted by the Beijing News. The agency said that it put out the call for bids on the website in accordance with local regulations. Seven companies or work units submitted proposals. Five of those were deemed eligible, and Taiji Computer Corporation and Tongfang Corporation were selected. However, critics have questioned whether those companies were the best fit for the job, suggesting instead that they simple had close ties to the ministry.
Though the MOR declined to provide specific financial information about the project, it did say that it will respond to information requests from the public. The department is currently arranging replies for current outstanding applications.
The Ministry of Railways is already fighting an uphill battle, as it doesn’t have the best reputation for honest dealings. A former head of the ministry was found guilty of corruption last year and was also held responsible for a high-profile train crash that caused 40 deaths. Several other high-ranking officials were also investigated for corruption after the incident.
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