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About 400 bullet trains operate from Beijing South Railway Station every day. From July 1 to Aug 31, the station is expected to see 9.53 million travelers. [Photo/Xinhua]

At railway station, long lines for taxis, overcrowding cited

When it opened in 2008, Beijing South Railway Station was hailed by observers as a shining example of a modern rail transportation hub.

The 32-hectare, oval-shaped station, which handled China"s first high-speed trains, has been compared with New York"s Grand Central and London King"s Cross stations.

But its star, which was expected to continue rising, has been falling in the eyes of many.

As the number of passengers has expanded rapidly over the past decade, leaving and arriving at Beijing South has become an ordeal.

Long lines form for taxis at the station, with unauthorized, "black" cabs that overcharge also operating in the area. Overcrowding is common on the concourse.

As one of three major rail hubs in the capital, Beijing South mainly handles passengers traveling to or from Tianjin and Shanghai and Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Fujian provinces.

About 400 bullet trains operate from the station every day, and during the summer travel rush it handles an average of about 154,000 passengers a day. From July 1 to Aug 31, the station is expected to see 9.53 million travelers.

But based on growing complaints, many passengers appear unhappy with the services provided. Shen Peilan, a frequent commuter between Beijing and Shanghai, said, "Randomly ask around about the experience at Beijing South, and even the most reticent passenger will have a complaint."

The situation worsens at night. Most of the 15 bus routes operating at the station do not run after 11 pm. By that time, the two subway lines at the station also have closed.

About 10 trains arrive between 11pm and midnight, leaving as many as 10,000 passengers searching for taxis.

They form a zigzag line waiting for cabs in a stuffy area of the station, and sometimes the line can stretch hundreds of meters. Those at the front cannot see the end.

In summer, although the air conditioners are on, poor air circulation can make the humid, hot and suffocating taxi waiting area highly oppressive.

One passenger, who gave his name only as Kuai, was one of those waiting on Monday after 11 pm. As a frequent bullet train traveler to Beijing, he often arrives at the station at night and said the long lines are a frequent occurrence.

"Sometimes the line will take several turns, which leaves me waiting for more than an hour," he said.

He has tried booking hailed cars and taxis online in advance, but without a definite pickup point drivers usually have difficulty finding him.

"When cabs enter the station"s underground garage, the navigation signal is poor and drivers may easily get lost," he said.

Cab driver Zhang Ku backed up Kuai"s story, saying the maze-like garage often bewilders drivers and passengers.

Given the limited choice, Kuai uses illegal cabs outside the station. "Some taxis and illegal cabs pick up customers along the street, usually displaying "leaving instantly" signs to attract passengers," he said, adding that they also overcharge.

A passenger surnamed Liu said he was approached by illegal cab drivers while waiting in line.

"The most insane price was 500 yuan ($73) to Xizhimen, (about 10 times higher than the metered fare)," Liu said.

He usually takes the subway from the station, but at night when the network closes his choice is limited.

The station"s name, Beijing South, has been used derisively as "Beijing difficulty" by netizens and the media, as the word "south" in Chinese is pronounced the same as the word "difficulty".

Taxi driver Zhang said he seldom goes to the station even though he has been driving for more than 20 years.

"From 11 pm to midnight, taxis are in high demand on the streets. I do not need to go to the railway station," he said.

A cabbie surnamed Du said the streets near Beijing South are always congested because illegal taxis park in the area.

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