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    Creative Commons License
    Rabble Rousing Random Ramblings by S Jagadish is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.

    March 15, 2006

    Competition for Indian Railways

    Amit Varma is thrilled by the impact of competition in the airlines sector. He wonders what other sectors would we love to see such competition.

    I'd love to see competition for the Indian Railways. It may be unfeasible to have multiple organizations/companies run trains on a limited number of tracks. But at least the ticket booking can be made easier. Today, if you don't want to use a travel agent, don't have an internet connection [or a cell phone on specific networks], you have to go to the nearest [or not so near!] booking counter/railway station to book your ticket. This'd involve standing in a queue for an hour or two, only to be told one [or more] of these:

    • No berths. Waitlist #148
    • You're only allowed to submit two forms
    • No credit cards, only cash - even if the amount comes to something like Rs. 3,000
    • Computer/network problem. Wait for half an hour until we sort it out - notice the absence of a "Please".
    Well I went through a similar experience last week. Actually I had a nightmarish experience three years ago as well. So little has changed! I tend to book tickets online, but the economics doesn't work out a lot of the time since the service charge on a sleeper class ticket is Rs. 40. One of the advantages of booking online is that you're not restricted by the # of tickets you purchase at a time.

    I had to book quite a few tickets (five in all) for our next month's trip to make Jaagruthi a mottai mandai again. Booking them online would have cost Rs. 250 more. In addition, the IRCTC website was really slow. So I went to the railway station. I saw a booking counter where I could pay through my credit card. It was manned and the queue wasn't long. The charges were Rs. 30 per ticket and a calculation told me that it was less costly compared to booking it online or waiting for an hour and a half in the cash payment queues.

    The problem was that just when it was my turn to get the booking done, the monitor of the dumb terminal conked out. The booking clerk meddled with it for ten minutes and then sought some help. His adviser suggested that he bring in a monitor from a nearby unmanned machine. It took another 15 minutes before the replacement monitor was fixed. After I presented my reservation forms and the booking was done, he returned three out of my five forms back, claiming that he'd only accept two forms at a time. I checked with those behind me in the queue and they were ok with my proceeding to submit the other forms. I explained that if I went to the end of the queue, it'd delay me by another half an hour while if they let me present the other forms, it'd only delay them by five minutes. The clerk refused and pointed out the rules, which was fair enough on his part, admittedly.

    The problem though was that I'd spent an hour at the station, got only two tickets booked and paid Rs. 60 as service charges when I'd have been much better off booking the tickets online ... and that is what I did eventually!

    But it made me wonder why the Railways doesn't have agents scattered throughout the city. We do have the various agents belonging to the 'Travels' business who do this sort of booking, but I'm talking of something like the KSRTC where you can walk in to so many booking offices across the city and get the ticket booked without any hassles. All these offices are networked and so it isn't a situation where you're unsure about whether your booking is valid or not. Having all these booking offices would ensure that the Indian Railways provides good service to its customers, employment opportunities and optimal resource utilization.

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