There is disturbing news that IR has recorded a drop of 4.2% passenger traffic during April-August during 2014-15 as compared to last year. Indian Railway carried 343 Crs passenger this year as compared to 358 Crs last year during the first five months showing a drop of 15 Crs passenger. Where has 15 Crs. Indian Railway passengers gone? The possible reasons can be Mode of shift from rail to road – a warning for Indian Railways
- Mode of shift from Rail to road – a warning signal for Railways
- Drop in economic activity – will certainly revive being cyclic
- Need for travel reduced – Information technology replaced the need
- Air fare becoming competitive with II AC travel: Nothing to worry
- Unwelcome gesture towards a passenger – a reason for changing attitude
- Uncertainty of confirmed reservation – a reason for improvement in IT
- Long journey time – unavoidable on date
- Heavy rush during peak hours – avoidable to some extent by operating longer trains
- Drop in passenger during non-peak hours as roads are also free – marketing effort may help
- Short distance passenger running away – a warning signal for Indian Railways
If news clipping to be believed, the probable reason quoted by an official of Ministry of Railways are
- Drop in short distance passenger travelling in unreserved coach
- Ticket-less travel
There is nothing new in the reasoning given and generally the same reasons are repeated every time a scenario of drop in passenger arises. The passenger traffic figures are available on Indian Railway website up to 13-14, and it is worth observing that the passenger traffic grown by 7.5% during 2011-12 but declined thereafter to 2.4% and (-) 0.002% in subsequent year. The year 2014-15 figures are important to observe. Why this decline not acknowledge while presenting Indian Railway budget speech during June 2014?
From the above, it is clear that decline trend has already surfaced in 12-13 but IR continued in denial mood. What should be done? The probable reasons are
Mode of shift from Rail to Road
Road is a passenger friendly mode of transport. The passenger is attracted to rail for comfort, lower fare and safety. But he runs away from the railway station due to long queue for ticketing, lack of passenger information, late running, poor frequency and waiting at railway station etc. But this avoidable.
Drop in economic activity
This is a cyclic event and will again revive. But when revived, the passenger shall continue to look towards rail transport as the best mode of transport.
Need for travel reduced
It is not certain, but reduction in need for travel due to mass penetration of IT is certainly a welcome sign.
Air travel becoming cost competitive to II AC
Indian Railways can conveniently shift to III AC where the earning per coach is slightly more as compared to II AC. The fare of II AC Rajdhani is Rs 2860/- with number of berths 46 thus earning Rs. 131560/- per trip. The fare of III AC Rajdhani is Rs. 2080/- with number of berths 64, thus earning Rs. 133120/-. Indian Railway shall concentrate in segment where it is highly competitive as compared to Air, because in no way it can attract passenger from Air mode to Rail. The attractive segment for heavy demand is III AC, intercity travel upto 600-700 Km by day time fast or overnight train. Even with 160-200 Kmph speed band, it may be difficult to attract passenger from air to rail where the journey time involved is more than 16 hrs.
Unwelcome gesture towards a passenger
Except for high class travel, the passenger is not looked upon with respect and smile. The slogan of ‘touch and feel’ very popular during 2006-07 needs a relook.
Uncertainty of confirmation of ticket
This is the most important factor that is driving away the passenger from Railways. Is it really a rush or mismanagement? Why waiting list up to 100-200 gets cleared? Unless third party audit is arranged, the truth will never be known. This is the most important need but does not qualify as passenger amenity. An idea to address this problem is given later in the article.
Heavy rush during peak hours (Sub-urban traffic)
Only accustomed daily passenger utilizes the services during peak hours. No one else dares to venture rail travel during this period. Indian Railways is not showing any good intention to work for sub-urban daily commuters. This is mainly due to poor realization of cost due heavily subsidized monthly ticket. But it no way, IR can avoid it. Poor sub-urban services will only hamper running of other fast and freight trains on the system.
The passengers who don’t dare to travel by sub-urban trains during peak hours, also avoids during non-peak. The reason still is the uncertainty. He decides in favor of road due to frequency of service, availability of seat and dropping near to his house. Indian Railway will continue to lose this traffic unless dedicated efforts are made. Solutions are discussed in the end.
Short distance passengers are running away
This is similar to what has been stated in non-peak hours.
Where the solution does lies to look for passenger business growth?
There are three mode of passenger travel i.e. long distance reserved class, short or long distance unreserved and daily commuter. All passengers travel is equally important and most of the time it drives each other. A passenger dropping after long distance will need short distance travel to his house. Does Indian Railway really cares and connect for his last mile short distance travel? Certainly not. Indian Railways has been talking of inter-model transport system, but what about ease in intra-rail connectivity with facility of fare, timing, information spread etc.
Reserved Class travel
- Using Information technology to benefit passenger and improving revenue
Passenger reservation system handles reservation of berth/seat for the intending journey. The process of reservation and cancellation is continuous. After the chart is printed, the train is handed over the TTE of the coach to check the vacant berths and allot thereafter. Here starts the leakage of revenue for IR.
Indian Railway does not have the information in its data bank about the utilization of the reserved seat-km capacity. Suppose a train travels for a distance of 1000 Km with 1000 seats in reserved SL coach than the capacity is of 1 million seat-km. What is the utilization?
A system shall be introduced in which each passenger shall confirm his intention of travel through mobile or by fixed or mobile machine installed at stations. The wait listed passenger shall also check-in indicating his intention of travel if a vacant seat is made available. The passenger reservation system shall update the position 10 minutes before the schedule departure of the train and allot vacant berths to checked-in wait list passenger. The train shall remain connected to PRS with facility for the passenger to search vacant berth/seat availability for any distance of travel. Imagine the e-taxi type mobile portal for the rail passenger wherein he fills-in his intention of travel and he gets the information of train lined up with vacant berths. This is the surest way to attract passenger towards rail transport with no hassle which he generally experiences at railway station.
The train shall remain on the PRS till arrival at destination.
This is how the NTES gives the position of the expected arrival of train at Jhansi for journey to Bhopal within next 2 hours. The availability of berths class wise along with fare and facility to book the ticket on mobile itself is the best passenger amenity which Indian Railway shall plan for.
- Remove pantry cars
Indian Railways has introduced a concept of e-catering wherein a passenger can order his food need over mobile and which can be served to him at his seat at the stopping station. With this being the situation, IR shall make its intention clear of replacing the pantry cars by passenger carrying coach.
When airways has gone for no-frill fare and giving competition to railways, is it not prudent for Railways to also go for the system of serving food only on demand. With e-catering management, it is possible to serve the food of choice. There are enormous benefit to Railways with this change namely (a) reduced fare (b) fare competitive to airways (c) taking care of the biggest source of complaint at present (d) reducing wastage of food etc.
This is the biggest hindrance towards increasing the number of coaches in Rajdhani trains because two pantry cars are attached if the number of passenger coaches goes to 20. The engine and platform capacity exists to run 22 coach LHB Rajdhani trains and one can imagine the revenue boost with this measure.
- Marketing of Trains
A passenger attaches his value by the train he travels. The most valued trains are Rajdhani, Shatabadi, Duranto and all other trains with numbering starting with 12…. The most poorly valued trains are special trains in which the passenger opts as the last resort. An innovative effort was initiated to start with premium trains by using released ICF coaches from Rajdhani type trains. Such trains were having a dynamic fare structure. But there can be another approach towards this. All special trains shall be booked three months in advance for end to end travel. The schedule train reservation shall start only 15 days in advance. The advantage is that the passenger whose travel plan is finalized much in advance gets confirmed reservation releasing pressure from the scheduled trains. With this dynamic fare shall be introduced on the conventional trains during festive season.
- Air Conditioned travel for sub-urban passenger
There is continuous demand for AC coaches attached to sub-urban train but could not make it through yet. With the facility of mobile booking of vacant seat as given in para 1 above, a passenger ready to pay for main line train can avail such trains say at Kalyan-Mumbai-Kalyan, Borivali-Mumbai Central-Borivali etc. The trains are running almost 50% empty and IR can earn considerably by opening these berths for infrequent sub-urban traffic.
Unreserved Class Travel
There is no information available at any moment about the availability of space even to stand in unreserved coach. It is not for sure that the unreserved coach runs to optimum capacity all the time. There are special trains, the unreserved coach of which is not fully patronized. In case sufficient vacant space is available in general coach, the challenge is to communicate it to all the passenger intending to travel in that direction. It is necessary for a commercial staff to estimate the occupancy and update the status on UTS server. A mobile app similar to the one developed by e-taxi wherein the passenger on entering the data of his intended journey is given information about the approaching trains and status of unreserved coach about availability in four categories such as Heavy, Medium, Normal and thin etc.
The drop in traffic in this category does not bother Railways much. But it is an important link for the last mile connectivity. The road users can conveniently be attracted to avail non-peak services depending on direction and timings by providing hassle free ticketing, trolley or fixed rate by porters, escalators etc.
The implementation of above will bring in the turnaround of passenger business on Indian Railways
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