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THE 15-YUAN ($2.3) MEAL BOXES, which were required to be available throughout the journey on all high-speed trains, are now provided on a first-come first-served basis, according to reports. Guangzhou Daily commented on Monday:
Asked why it stopped providing the 15-yuan meal boxes on all high-speed trains, the China Railway Corporation said the decision was about "catering to the diverse demands of passengers", not cutting the most affordable options, of which, it said, many cost even less than 10 yuan.
In most cases, passengers have to pay more than 40 yuan to enjoy a proper meal on a high-speed train, and it is understandable that some find the cost a bit steep and prefer taking their own food on board or choose not to eat at all.
On the other hand, there are good reasons to set the price higher than ordinary restaurants, as selling the 15-yuan meal boxes, popular as they are with many passengers, does not meet the rail company's expectations for its profits from the service.
That said, providing "affordable" meals at all times while keeping the on-board catering business profitable may come at the cost of quality. That explains why many have said the 15-yuan meals are far from tasty.
This dilemma can be broken if the prices of the meal boxes are set at a reasonable level in a transparent manner. Pressuring the rail authorities to lower the cost of the meals they provide or discouraging passengers from complaining will not improve the situation.
Unlike most markets where profits are essentially decided by the demand, the catering service provided on trains is unique and free of competition. Hence the price authorities are supposed to intervene on the basis of thorough investigation and set limits on how much the rail company can profit from its catering service.
Such a move is necessary to root out monopoly-related profits and protect passengers' legal interests. In other words, whether 15 yuan is an appropriate price for the meal box should be decided by transparent investigation into the market. This approach applies to other monopoly services too.(news from China Daily)