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.

Toll-free complaint number to be printed on train tickets

In an effort to improve food quality at rail premises and help passengers lodge complaints against poor catering services, the Railways has decided to print a toll free helpline number behind train tickets.

Though Railways had launched the 10-digit helpline number (1800—111—321) in January, the response is so far tepid only.

“The number of complaints against catering service on an average is five to six per day. This is because of the less awareness about the operation of the toll-free number,” a senior Railway Ministry official.

“That is why it has been decided that all train tickets will have the toll-free number on the backside and the modalities are being worked out to change the software for it,” he said, adding, “This will help creating awareness about the ready availability of complaint mechanism.”

Besides, stickers with toll-free number will also be put on coaches as part of the awareness campaign.

The Railways has set up a central monitoring cell with the toll free number for the convenience of railway users to register their complaints regarding railways’ catering services like food quality, over charging both at railway stations and in running trains.

The facility is available all seven days from 7 am to 10 pm. Food is generally served to the passengers during this time.

According to the official, as soon as the complaint is registered, all possible action will be taken on real time basis to address that issue.

Follow-up actions are taken after receiving complaints or suggestions regarding catering service through the tollfree number, said the official.

Till date Railways has realised about Rs 5 lakh as penalty from caterers due to the complaints registered through the toll-free number.

Record booking of 4.95 lakh e-tickets on July 13

Nearly five lakh train tickets were booked through the IRCTC’s e-ticketing website on July 13, a record single-day booking.

The website has achieved a record booking of 4.95 lakh e-tickets involving more than nine lakh passengers on last Friday, a senior IRCTC official said.

The IRCTC had recorded an average of 4.47 lakh e-tickets per day since the new timing for Tatkal tickets came into force on July 10 as against the 3.60 lakh average earlier.

Recently, Railways and Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation have taken a slew of measures to help genuine customers to get tickets and to prevent unauthorised persons from booking them.

The opening timing of booking advance reservation period and Tatkal tickets have been segregated to 8 AM and 10 AM, respectively. Agents have been barred from booking tickets during initial two hours after the opening of counters and on the internet.

In order to improve the availability of website during the initial peak hours, IRCTC has augmented the infrastructure capacity including hardware, software and internet bandwidth.

With the implementation of above measures, the earlier abnormal pressure on the website has been reduced to a great extent, the official said.

Published in: on July 21, 2012 at 4:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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E-ticket cancellations fetch railways Rs 750 crore

An integral part of a family holiday or business trip is proper planning, and most Indian travellers usually book their train tickets weeks, if not months, in advance. But the best laid plans can go awry and often do. The Indian Railways understands this principle well-it is what has, after all, enriched the government organization substantially over the years.

Between 2005 and 2011, the Railways earned a neat Rs 750 crore (almost equivalent to its annual profit) on account of cancellations of e-tickets alone. (Its earnings from e-tickets from 2005 to April 2012 were Rs 30,094 crore.) RTI activist Manoranjan Roy, who procured this information, says that the railways must do away with cancellation charges. “Indian Railways now has several avenues for generating revenue,” he points out. “It must stop burdening the common man with cancellation charges.”

In 2011, between March and December, the railways earned Rs 198 crore from cancellation charges of e-tickets. Ever since it began in 2005, e-ticketing has ballooned to make up about 40% of all rail ticket sales. Railway officials say that the convenience that booking and cancelling an e-ticket offers has seen more passengers making advance bookings that very often result in cancellations. In fact, one out of every three e-tickets sold is cancelled.

If a confirmed ticket is cancelled more than 24 hours before the scheduled departure of the train, the penalty is Rs 70 for an AC first-class ticket, Rs 60 for AC Tier-2, AC Tier-3 and AC chair car, Rs 40 for sleeper class and Rs 20 for a second-class ticket. In fact, even if a wait-listed ticket is not confirmed, the Railways go on to deduct Rs 20 before refunding the remaining sum.

Popular trains have long waiting lists of 700 or 800. “Close to 95% of the wait-listed tickets do not get confirmed and automatically stand cancelled,” explains a rail officer. “Hence, what ordinarily happens is that most passengers book themselves on more than one train; others with flexible travel dates book tickets on different days if they are on the waiting list.”

Clearly, somebody’s attempts to stay on top of the chaotic train travel in India can be somebody else’s huge gain.

E-way to big bucks

Year ——– Tickets sold (lakh) —— Ticket sale income (Rs crore)——- Revenue from cancellation charges (Rs crore)

2005-06 —-25 ———- 317 ——- 2.85

2006-07 —-68 ———- 678 ——- 5.79

2007-08 —- 189 ——- 1,700 —— 15.61

2008-09 —- 440 —— 3883 ——– 99.42

2009-10 —- 719 —— 6011 ——– 190.63

2010-11 —- 969 —— 8007 ——– 235.37

2011-12 —-1,161 —– 9498 ——– 198.80*

(* Cancellation figures up to December 2011)