Railway passengers may soon be able buy a train ticket by visiting their nearest mobile recharge shop. The railways plan to tap some 100,000 recharge vendors and mobile phone service providers spread across India to offer cellphone ticketing, in what appears to be an interim step before allowing direct billing via individual cellphones.
“When you go to the recharge shop for a top-up, all you need to do is to ask the vendor to also accept separate payment for the railway ticket. The money deposited for the ticket will be transferred to the service provider through the mobile phone transaction into a designated account. The service provider in turn will transfer the money to the railways,” said a senior railway officer.
The railways will then issue a unique identity pin number–over the mobile phone, which the passenger would need to key in onto a designated kiosk installed at the railway station to print the actual ticket. “This technology will considerably reduce queues at railway stations,” the officer added.
The railways are in discussions with companies that provide cash transfer through cellphone services as well as mobile phone service providers, the officer, who didn’t want to be identified, added. The trial runs of a prototype have already begun in Mumbai.
Railway minister Lalu Prasad Yadav had announced a scheme for issue of tickets through cellphones during the railway budget in February. Initially, CRIS, the information technology arm of the railways, will extend this facility for suburban travelers and people traveling unreserved.
The Unreserved Ticketing System (UTS) will interact with the servers of the service provider. Thereafter, the service will also be extended to passengers traveling on reserved seats. As many as 15 million people travel in the unreserved class every day, while one million people travel in the reserved class daily.
“If we get to distribute and sell railway tickets in some way, it will help us in leveraging another revenue stream-especially since our margins in selling phone recharge coupons are already under pressure with operators expanding their distribution networks,” says Naveen Sharma of Naveen Variety Stores, a retailer in Modinagar, near Ghaziabad.
Meanwhile, a senior executive at a mobile phone firm, who didn’t want to be identified, noted that phones “have already started evolving as a mode to pay for utility services and progress is being made to evolve it further by adding capabilities such as mobile-purchase of rail tickets.”
His firm is currently evaluating alliances with different organizations, including the Indian Railways, but he declined to elaborate.