Travel post COVID-19: Providing thrust to digital booking

Travel post COVID-19: Providing thrust to digital booking

Why e-ticketing introduced in post-globalisation era will be boon in post-COVID-19 one

The year 2020 has been dealt a blow on a global scale, with economic activities restricted and people confined to their homes due to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. The travel and tourism sector has been the worst hit.

We are aware of the fragile fiscal health of the railways, which was further weakened by suspension of train operations since March 25 when the lockdown was first announced to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. It forced the railways to cut down expenditure by 25 per cent.

But not all is on the downside.

The need for social distancing and decongestion of booking centres has pushed for adoption of digital approach to book tickets. This has been implemented on a large scale in the aviation sector.

Digital ticketing

We need to first understand the underlying purpose of ticketing. One of the major reasons behind the idea is to regulate the flow of people who are availing the service. We are a country of 130 crore with people across the social strata moving between states and cities.

The number of seats available on a train is limited and due to the large gap between demand and supply, ticketing is instrumental in achieving the objective of decongestion when limited services are available for such a large population.

Ticketing also helps government determine pricing for the services offered at varying prices and build a sustainable source of revenue for the government as well. In a nutshell, a ticket is representative of the rightful authority of a person to avail the services.

The idea of ticketing was established since the inception of railways, and was meant to regulate flow of people and secure revenue for its operation.

It was redefined in 1988, when ticketing slowly transpired from the cardboard form to computerised form, when passenger reservation system ticketing in Delhi and has since been widely prevalent across the reservation centres on the Indian Railway Network.

The digitalisation of railway ticketing in the initial phases prior to electronic reservation system made it possible for people to book a ticket from any corner of the country.

Yet, its development on technology front shall not be the only time when ticketing became smarter, but can be traced right from the time when Rajdhani Express was first introduced in 1969. The cost for food was introduced in the fare itself, marking the start of the premium journey, with airline-style booklet tickets for premium Rajdhani and Shatabdi trains.

So then what prompted the need for a digital ticketing system in post-globalisation era?

The idea has not been merely pushed by the threat posed by the pandemic: it has been existent for more than a decade in the railways. Digital ticketing was first introduced in 2006 by Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation.

There has been a constant increase in the internet connectivity from 2 per cent in 2006 to 27 per cent in 2018. The number of internet users is 500 million, according to a report released by CISCO in 2018. The advent of e-ticketing has helped passengers save time and is a greener alternative as it promotes the use of gadgets such as smartphones.

The current number of smartphone users according to the 2019 standing is 373.88 million.

Switching to e-tickets helps in easy access to minute details in real time such as seat availability, class-wise fare, train stoppages, etc. It helps minimise chances of ticket loss, which would otherwise result in penalisation.

In fact, digitalisation of ticketing has not just facilitated capacity augmentation in terms of ticket generation, but has also made it easier for the railways to keep a record of train bookings and facilities such as retiring rooms, special train bookings. This also helps people keep a track of their trips and cut down efforts to cancel tickets.

Progress post digitisation

With the digitalisation of ticketing system in 2006, the number of tickets booked through counter dropping to 45.48 per cent from 61.46 per cent in 2010-11, while internet booking rose to 54.52 per cent from 38.54 per cent in 2014-15. The system did have its own shortcomings with its evolution.

In the beginning of its inception, constrained technical capacity resulted in technical glitches due to high traffic. But it witnessed a revolution in about 13 years, when e-tickets saw a jump of 90 per cent with the induction of the German Beta software.

The number of tickets booked increased to 5.01 lakh a day, with 15,000 tickets booked per minute. About 18.3 crore tickets were booked in 2014-15, with the capacity to handle 3,000 enquiries a second.

There was an increase in the ticket revenue by 150 per cent and the railways earned Rs 20,514 crore.

Challenges and solutions

Despite the dynamism presented by digitisation of ticket booking, there are loopholes that continue to compromise with the security of the three lakh people who are regular visitors to the site, which has been time and again subject to hacking.

With rising demand for train travel in the lockdown period, measures such as limiting single booking between 8 am and 12 pm window, limiting the total number of tickets by a single user to six and introduction of verification systems by means of CAPTCHA and mobile verification have minimised the manipulation by agents.

For the time being, while we resort to limiting our movements and gatherings at public places, it has provided us with the opportunity to reinvent our approach to ticketing and provide thrust to digitalisation of facilities.

Chitresh Shrivastva is associated with Department of Media Studies, Christ University, as a guest faculty 

Views expressed are the author's own and don't necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

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