Booking train tickets may soon become as easy as getting your phone recharged from the shop next door, if IRCTC has its way.
To widen the adoption of SMS-based ticket booking, the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) is keen on following a model wherein a passenger can just walk into a shop next door, pay cash, and book tickets.
IRCTC is an arm of the Indian Railways, which handles Internet-based, and now SMS-based, train ticket bookings.
The booking details can be delivered on the passengers’ cell-phone and the SMS on his/her mobile phone can function as the train ticket – both these steps are already functional in the current set up.
IRCTC is thinking of various ways to make the SMS-based train ticket booking attractive. The facility, launched a few weeks ago, has not yet caught on, with below 150 tickets getting booked a day. This is less than one per cent of the total reserved train tickets booked.
The lack of adoption of mobile-based payment mechanism is a key bottleneck for SMS-based ticketing. IRCTC Chairman and Managing Director Rakesh Tandon told Business Line, “A large part of our population – be it from economically weaker or economically stronger section – does not use mobile phones to make payments. They make all their transactions in cash.”
To get around this bottleneck, IRCTC now wants to work with shopkeepers so that they act as intermediaries and accept cash from passengers for booking tickets.
“The idea is to try and make use of a shopkeeper or a retailer with a mobile phone to make the payment to IRCTC. Any person anywhere should be able to walk in to a shop, hand over cash to a shopkeeper and get the ticket booking message details delivered on his phone. The proposal is at an idea stage. Telecom firms can come with a suggestion as they will benefit if more tickets were booked from cell phones,” Tandon said.
About 31 crore reserved train tickets are booked a year.
Shopkeepers could enter into a pre-paid credit deposit scheme with IRCTC, allowing IRCTC to debit money from the shopkeeper’s account for a train ticket booked. This would take away the problems in ticket booking caused due to hitches in Internet banking.
Incidentally, mobile firms are already using such a model to provide credit top-up services to their pre-paid customers. However, for train ticket booking, this business model will have to be tweaked, given the large-scale shortage of reserved train berths in peak travel times.
CASH BACK CHALLENGE
Given that many tickets will be waitlisted and could require cancellation, working out the dynamics of ticket cancellation, cash repayment to the passenger will have to be sorted out. Providing these facilities at lowest transaction cost will be another challenge.
Tandon maintains that given the low Internet connectivity in the country, SMS-based ticketing will be the way forward to make available booking facilities in 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.