SMS rail ticket booking yet to gather speed

SMS-based train ticket booking has not caught on yet, even though Internet-based ticketing is in high demand.

Two weeks after the Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) launched SMS-based train ticket booking, only 135-140 tickets are booked every day.

This is less than five per cent of the 3.85 lakh train tickets that are booked online every day on an average. This is also under two per cent of the 8.5 lakh train tickets booked daily, both online and offline.

“We are booking an average of 130 tickets a day through SMS-based booking,” said an IRCTC official.

The slow pick-up could be explained by the lack of a large base of people using mobile-based payment mechanism, which is a must for SMS-based train ticket booking.

Payment for SMS-based train ticket booking can be done through the mobile-based transaction mechanism of over 26 banks, and mobile wallet mechanisms, such as Airtel Money and Zipcash.

Also, most passengers hit the Internet to check ticket availability as well as to do the booking. While IRCTC has launched this service on a pilot basis and is monitoring its performance over three months, the company hopes that over a longer term, SMS-based ticketing will catch up with or even exceed Internet-based bookings.

The company feels that given the low Internet connectivity levels in the country, SMS-based ticketing will be the way forward to make available booking facility in the rural areas.

About 15 per cent of India’s population has access to the Internet, while about 70 per cent has access to mobile phones.

While IRCTC has launched the SMS-based booking window, the core Net-based capacity — between IRCTC and Centre for Railway Information System (CRIS) — has not yet increased.

In effect, to book a reserved ticket, passengers’ SMS-based requests compete with Internet-based requests.

CRIS handles the passenger reservation system server, which is the Indian Railways’ core server with train ticket booking inventory. All booking requests — be it from IRCTC or ticket booking clerks — go to the CRIS server.

All SMS-based ticket booking requests first go to IRCTC and then to CRIS.

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