TOI Story on e-Ticketing: A Distorted Perspective

Yesterday, The Union Minister for Railways Lalu Prasad Yadav tabled a populist Railway Budget for the next financial year in the Parliament and this morning the papers (expectedly) were full of reports on that. Some adulatory, some critical and a quite a few cynical.

Amidst the melee of reports, most of which I just glanced through, I found one on page two of The Times of India (Delhi edition) which made me think. Not because it was an intriguing write-up but because it was an example of present-day standards of journalism (I too am a part of this).

The report headlined “E-ticketing yet to net passengers” doesn’t carry a by-line, it is attributed to Times News Network.

I too am one of those who don’t buy in whole the Great Indian Railways Turnaround Story, but this is not the manner in which I would like to package my argument.

The report says:

However, at present, a measly 27 per cent of all bookings are done through the internet.

By what standards can someone term 27 per cent of the millions of bookings done by the Indian Railways as “measly.” 27 per cent is more than a quarter, and one-fourth of all reservations done online in a country like India with limited internet penetration is not “measly,” it is an achievement.

It goes on further:

But in Delhi alone, the seven ticket vending machines in place now can be used only to procure platform tickets. In addition, thanks to improper maintenance, most of them are lying defunct.

I agree with the “lying defunct” part having experienced that first hand. But who ever filed this story doesn’t perhaps understand the fact that the “seven ticket vending machines,” are meant to deliver platform tickets only. Not that it is designed to deliver all kinds of tickets and is presently delivering only platform tickets.

Moreover, common sense tells us that since they are coin operated, you cannot book a sleeper class ticket to Bhopal inserting three hundred rupee coins or one-fifty two-rupee coins (or a combination of both as it doesn’t perhaps accept five-rupee coins).

Regarding the first ATM ticket counter it says:

one has to be registered with the IRCTC

Like it or not, registration is a necessary evil because it helps both – the user and the service providers – to track the transactions made and in case something goes wrong there is an identification procedure to track that.

The story ends with a quote:

“Unless we manage to include all banks under this service, it is going to be difficult to involve all passengers in this scheme. The railways at the moment is happy earning the royalty after lending out prime space to this bank. They are planning similar ATM counters at all important stations in Delhi. Sadly, scant regard is being paid to the profile of the passengers, many of whom have never operated an ATM or a computer in their entire life.”

But it isn’t attributed to anyone. Should I, as a reader, interpret this as said by one Sashi Kumar who was quoted two paragraphs before? If yes, I shouldn’t.

The few places I worked in and the few stories that I filed while working there, my editors never let a single quote story go live (or to print) unless it was an exclusive or the story itself is wound around that quote. This doesn’t seem to be the case here.

And to top it all, actually it was what caught my eye first, the image and the caption.

The image is of a self-operated platform ticket vending machine and the caption reads:

RARELY USED: Only 27% of all bookings are done through the Internet

This is a revelation. A platform ticket vending machine is a representative of the Internet and online ticket reservation.

And interestingly, there’s a story on The Times of India website dated, January 31, 2007 (quite recent) that says:

Good response to rlys’ e-ticketing facility

PATNA: The railways have been earning good revenue ever since e-ticketing facility was introduced by it across the country from January 1 last year. In fact, the facility has received good response in metropolitan and several other big cities, including Patna.

The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation website (irctc.co.in) – the one which e-ticketing is routed through – is listed at No. 26 on Alexa’s list of the most popular websites in India while The Indian Railways Website (indianrail.gov.in) is at No. 34 at the time of posting this.