From Now on, You Don’t Need Ticket Printouts to Travel on Indian Railways [But Why So Late?]

IRCTC has announced that it will accept what it calls Virtual Reservation Message, which it defines as ‘a screen-shot of the e-ticket displayed through laptops/palmtops/ Mobile phone’. About time, though you’ll still need to carry an ID proof.

This comes as a much awaited step – especially for those of us who’ve had to scramble for printouts just before journeys. Or worse, have forgotten printouts and ended up in a mess.

Why So Slow?

This, of course, begs the question as to why it takes so long for the Indian Railways to embrace any technology or change.

Of course, there’s the fact that there’s bureaucracy and red tape. But the underlying reason really is that the Railways is an economic monopoly. Because Indian Railways has no competition, it has no fear of losing business, and thus no incentives to change or to go the extra mile to improve its profits.

If say, the rights to operate trains were auctioned out to private companies, I dare say we’d see far more(and far faster) change – better food, more comfortable carriages, and perhaps even facilities like in-train entertainment. We’ve seen much change in nearly every other space – from telecom to automobiles – but not in Railways.

Railway officials point out that Railways cannot be privatized easily because it has a social responsibility. Often Railways has to take up ‘financially unviable but socially desirable routes that reach remote areas’ – those would get shot down by private companies.

Because railways is so fundamental a service and privatization would mean increased fares, any such measure to privatize railways would render train travel inaccessible to many poor people, and thus unacceptable to the Government.

Of course, the lack of privatization would also mean technology adoption will remain slow. Thus we’ve had to contend with slow change, simply because of the way Indian Railways sees itself.

For now, of course, we can celebrate small victories like being able to travel without printed tickets.


[Guest article by Shamanth Rao.]

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