Cultural Differences: Chinese and Australian Metro System Differences
In the past 24 hours I have used two transit systems from two countries, and one flight service between China and Australia.
Having used the Guangzhou metro system to arrive to Baiyun airport only ten hours prior, now being a commuter on the Sydney train system, I got a real taste of the security differences on the metro systems in China and Australia.
No Ticket Inspectors On Chinese Metros
Chinese metro systems have no ticket inspectors. There are no ticket inspectors on the platforms or in the trains.
You can board a Guangzhou metro from Baiyun airport (白云机场) all the way down to Panyu (番禺) and never once be approached by a ticket inspector asking to check your ticket.
Essentially, in China, you can go into the metro station, through all the security and bag checks, put your body illegally through the turnstile, and no one in authority in China would bat an eyelid about it. You could essentially be riding the metro system in China for nothing.
Cheap Chinese Metro Systems Deterrence
The reason that people do not travel illegally on Chinese metro systems – I believe – is because the metro system is so cheap.
In China, a metro ticket costs CNY2-3 ($0.50 AUD) to travel 3-4 stops and up to 8 kilometers away from your destination. That equates to $0.50 Australian cents to travel the equivalent distance of Sydney Central Station to Newtown station.
That cost is next to nothing.
But in Australia, if you wanted to travel a few stations, an adult Opal card single-trip fare would cost $4.20 AUD, the equivalent of CNY 20, or ten 10-kilometer metro trips in China.
The low cost of fares in China acts as a deterrent for would-be train hoppers.
The Opal Card System
In order to travel on the Sydney train system, everyone requires an Opal card. The inconvenience caused by an inefficient Opal card system is considerable when compared to the Chinese metro card system.
To receive an Opal card In Sydney Australia, you have to submit an application – if you are a pensioner – and then wait five to ten business days for an Opal card to come to your letterbox.
Alternatively, an Opal card can be collected from a 7/11 convenience store or at a petrol station. In Campbelltown however, these options are very far away from an actual train station or bus stop, and inconvenient when you are hurrying for a train.
The Convenience Of Travel In China
In order to travel on the Chinese train system, you can use the WeChat APP to scan a QR code on the metro ticket machine, and pay. Alternatively you can insert cash to pay, and receive a coin. Otherwise, you can use a train card, similar to an Opal card.
Because hundreds to thousands of people come from the countryside, China will never force its people to get an Opal-card style metro ticket in Guangzhou. It would be extremely impractical to force everybody who comes from outside of Guangzhou to order one.
But that is exactly what Sydney has done. Sydney transit operators force travelers from other states, from cities such as Queensland, Melbourne, Perth, Australian travelers from the countryside, and force foreigners to get Opal tickets in order to travel on the system.
In addition, you even cannot use money anymore. You can only use an internet service to “top up” your Opal card balance. If you lose your Opal card, you also lose your Opal card balance.
The Sydney transit system would be extremely inconvenient for travelers who would rather use money, for example. As a traveler, for those few hours I spend to purchase an Opal card, and familiarize myself with how to “top up” the card, I would rather spend on seeing one or two extra sights around Sydney.
Ticket Inspectors Generate Revenue For Sydney Transit
In Australia, not many people are willing to use the train system. You could be on a train that is empty – like I was today – from Sydney airport to Campbelltown. It is a very under-used system.
China, alternatively, has a metro system that is packed like sardines every single minute of the day. That is how the transit system in China makes its money. Transit operators can afford to lower and freeze their prices.
But in Australia, if no one uses the train system, then how do they make their money?
One mechanism to increase revenue on Sydney trains is to put inspectors onto the trains, raise the ticket prices very high, and fine commuters to create revenue.
Every time I get onto a train, there is always the possibility that some ticket inspector will come and ask everyone, “Tickets please” on the train. On average, 2-3 people who did not want to pay for a train ticket will be fined using this method. In some cases, commuters have the wrong ticket type but will still get fined or warned a first offence.
In my case, and in the case of millions of travelers from overseas, I did not have an Opal card on arrival to Sydney airport. I could get fined for that.
Sydney Train System White Elephant
The Sydney train system lays moderately unused due to all the bad decisions that the Australian government has made.
It has almost turned into a white elephant.
Many Australians discouraged from using the train system instead use a car to travel. To them, there is no point in a train system when you could just drive.
Meanwhile, with less and less commuters on train systems, ticket inspectors are employed to rip off the dwindling number of commuters who use those trains.
The big difference between travel in China and Australia is the dignity afforded to the commuters of those services.
If you board a train with no ticket in Australia, you can be fined $200 AUD for that travel offence by a ticket inspector. In China, the fine is equivalent to CNY 1,000 for not paying a CNY 2 ticket.
In Australia, $200 AUD is one day of earnings. To someone in China however, CNY 1,000 is the equivalent of the monthly rent, or two weeks of wages.
That is crazy.
The author of Diary Of A Mad Chaos from 1996 to 2018, The Lost Years book, Wubao In China (猎艳奇缘) book series, and Foreigner (华人) an exploration of race relations in Australia. Fluent in Chinese Mandarin, Macedonian, and English, the author currently resides in China, Guangzhou where he continues to make comparative analysis of the cultural differences between Eastern and Western societies.