A harried commuter of the suburban train system can now heave a sigh of relief. The Western Railway has begun work on the project to facilitate booking tickets using cellphones operational by June and is currently in the process of fixing financial and technical gaps.
According to the plan, a commuter would be able to buy a railway ticket for the suburban line just by sending an SMS to a particular number. In response, the user would receive either an image of the ticket or a message mentioning details of the ticket bought by him.
This would help commuters to avoid long queues for buying tickets and also from punching coupons. The amount spent by the user would either be added to his monthly bill or deducted from card balance, if it is a prepaid number.
Railway officials feel that this mobile ticketing process seems simple, though it is not.
“There are two problems attached to it — how to keep a tab on money transaction and whether the user needs a special kind of mobile phone to book a ticket,” said a senior WR official on condition of anonymity.
To keep a tab on money transaction, the mobile service provider will have to be roped in for this project. The provider usually charges a sum of not less than Rs10 as service charge for booking a ticket using mobile phone. “The railways wouldn’t bear this burden. Unless the service provider doesn’t absorb this amount, it would automatically be added to the price of the ticket. So it could not be viable for buyers on suburban trains because this sum would be added to ticket amount which will make it costlier,” said a top WR official on condition of anonymity.
Other problem is whether the phone should be Java-enabled and has a GPRS system activated on it as well. Railway sources said they could replace the image part with a simple SMS to make this facility available for all phones. The GPRS, however, would give the WR the details of the commuter's boarding station.
“GPRS would help us know the exact station from where the commuter boarded the train. As soon as a commuter sends a message asking for a ticket, the GPRS would get activated. We are working on improving this technology,” the official added.
The Railway Board has asked the railway authorities to make this project financially viable and commuter-friendly. “The project is progressing in the right direction and we are ensuring that sufficient steps are taken before launching it,” said S Chandrayan, chief PRO, WR.