Haggling with porters and taxi drivers at railway stations will be passé from next April. As will the boring task of standing in long queues for platform or train tickets.
The solution will be on your smart phone, in which an integrated railway app has to be downloaded. It will allow passengers to hire an Uber or Ola cab from your home to station and at the destination point; order your favourite dish from a list of restaurants and get it delivered to your seat; and book a hotel room as well.
The app will feature a host of services such as pre-booked coolies, tour packages and car rentals to make your train journey a delightful experience. The railway ministry is preparing to launch its “integrated mobile app ecosystem” on March 31 next year.
The app is among measures the government has taken to revamp the world’s fourth-largest rail network that has 12,000 passenger trains and 7,000-odd stations, and carries 23 million passengers each day – equivalent of Australia’s population.
The ministry has held three rounds of discussions with taxi aggregator Uber, which is said to be giving a “sweet deal” to the railways, but Ola and other service providers are likely to give tough competition at the time of bidding.
Given that 95% of the tickets are unreserved, the ministry is preparing to make bookings hassle-free. Negotiations with the Paytm, a mobile e-commerce company, are at an advances stage, ministry officials said.
If a deal is struck, the company will help set up of counters outside stations for issuing online registration of unreserved or platform tickets. Passengers will get QR codes, which will be pasted at railway stations, ending those long queues.
“The station area will get decongested and the railways can cut stationary expenses,” an official said.
Consultant firm Ernest and Young have been engaged for the project that holds opportunities for the railways to ramp up revenues, providing a generational shift in train travel in India at the same time.
These are part of railway minister Suresh Prabhu’s transformative plan to perk up the decrepit, loss-making public transporter that has suffered years of underinvestment. The average speed of the country’s best trains is a sluggish 55km an hour, accidents are common and coaches, platforms and toilets are often filthy.
Failure to provide better passenger services has resulted in a loss of Rs 7 lakh an hour, consultants Ernest and Young say. But the transporter is expected to gain Rs 498 crore a year, sharing the profit with the taxi aggregators, hotels, restaurants and other services that it will be facilitating through the app.
Here is how the app is expected to change a commuter’s experience: Get an app-based cab at home and at the point of destination; book a porter before reaching the station; watch the location and movement of the train on screens while waiting at the station.
Use WiFi to watch entertainment and news programmes on smart phones during the journey; get food delivered to the seat from a list of restaurants from any city that the train passes by; and book a hotel, guesthouse or Oyo room before reaching the destination.