Days after unveiling a new booking option that offered women-only compartments on sleeper trains, Trip.com, China’s largest online travel company, has seemingly discontinued the service on Thursday.
While some had praised Trip.com’s initiative for offering a more secure environment for women, many netizens emphasized the importance of addressing broader issues of safety and gender equality in public spaces without resorting to segregation.
Trip.com neither confirmed nor denied that the service had been discontinued. Speaking to Sixth Tone, a source at the company said: “The development team did not expect such a strong reaction. The company plans to enhance the service to increase the success rate of booking women-only compartments.”
On Thursday evening, Sixth Tone could not access the booking service for women-only compartments on several train lines, despite it previously being available.
The new service, which allowed users to book train compartments exclusively with passengers of the same gender, was introduced on the booking platform last Friday.
Incidentally, the service offering women-only compartments on sleeper trains was introduced in response to longstanding demands from some women passengers for a safer and more comfortable travel environment.
In early April, a social media campaign gained momentum after a woman shared her unsettling experience of being in the same compartment with three men during a train journey to highlight the importance of providing better travel options for women traveling alone.
While Trip.com’s initiative garnered significant attention, with many users rushing to take advantage of the option, it has also sparked controversy regarding gender equality and the implications of segregating passengers based on gender.
As of Wednesday, Jimu News reported that Trip.com has assisted almost 2,000 users in booking same-gender compartments successfully. A related hashtag on Weibo, the microblogging platform, has drawn over 500,000 views within the last three days.
During the service’s initial rollout, users had the option of paying an additional 10 yuan ($1.39) when selecting a specific sleeping compartment to access the option for being with those of the same gender. If the purchase failed, the system would automatically provide a refund.
However, once a train ticket has been sold and a passenger changes seats, resulting in someone of the opposite gender being in the compartment, the service fee would not be refunded.
In response to the service’s popularity among users, Diao Hongyu, the director of Trip.com’s train ticket products, announced that it would be temporarily provided free of charge.
But the move to offer same-gender compartments has sparked controversy. Critics argue that the provision of separate compartments based on gender may reinforce stereotypes and perpetuate the notion that women need special protection while traveling.
“Isn’t the safety of women supposed to be protected in the first place? Why do we now have to pay an extra 10 yuan for a better service? Isn’t this just a disguised way of restricting space normally available for women?” asked one comment on Weibo.
Another stated: “In the future, if you choose not to book a women-only compartment, you may be seen as accepting sexual harassment by default. Women who want to ensure their safety even have to pay an additional fee to access a so-called ‘safe space.’”
This isn’t the first attempt at implementing women-only compartments in China.
In 2006, the Beijing-Shanghai line introduced the first such compartment, with eight beds allocated exclusively for women. However, it was discontinued within weeks due to insufficient demand; not a single train witnessed full occupancy during that period.
“When someone gets off the train and there are three women left in the compartment, how can we sell the remaining seat?” Shang Chongsheng, deputy director of the Urban Security and Social Management Research Center at Wuhan University, told Jimu News.
The limited availability of train tickets during peak hours also poses a challenge to implementing gender-based compartment divisions. “If the tickets for a specific compartment have already been sold, and there are either three men or three women left, how should the remaining space be allocated?” stated Shang.
(Header image: VCG)